What is takoyaki?
A popular hot snack originating from Osaka and is an indispensable staple during a Japanese matsuri festival
Takoyaki is a spherical food cooked by dissolving flour into a soup stock, then pouring the batter onto a hot plate specific for takoyaki that has half-spherical holes. Octopus cut into pieces about 3 centimeter long, long leeks, red pickled ginger, and tenkasu (tempura scraps) are added inside and fried. In general, they are about the size of a golf ball, however, there are also stores that serve extra-large takoyaki that are as big as a baseball and have an entire small webfoot octopus about 5cm stuffed inside.
Takoyaki can be made easily and cheaply as long as the necessary preparations, such as teppan plates for takoyaki, are made. Since it is bite-sized, it can be eaten with ease, and thus are popular among men, women and children alike. It is often cooked and sold at matsuri festival stalls.
Although individually operated traditional takoyaki stores have been typically seen throughout Japan, with a large percentage in Osaka, major companies have become involved in franchising takoyaki stores from the 1990s onward. Since then, takoyaki, which simply used to be a cheap, light food, has been sold as a high-quality food with attention paid to ingredients, toppings, and the degree it is cooked to. This has become a hit, resulting in the comfort food from Osaka immediately becoming a food eaten fondly by people all over Japan.
Presently, even a food-themed amusement park called the “Takoyaki Museum” has been made, where several famous takoyaki chain stores have theirs stalls, with many visitors coming to the facility each year (as of April 2013).
Furthermore, these companies have begun opening their chain stores overseas, beginning with East Asia. Thus, takoyaki is gradually starting to be acknowledged around the world as a popular Japanese dish.
However, since there really isn’t a custom of eating octopus in the west, it seems to be more popular in non-western regions, such as Asia.
How to eat takoyaki
The common way of eating takoyaki is lathering it with plenty of sauce when it is freshly cooked, then sprinkling it with aonori (green laver), mayonnaise, and katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings). However, in recent years there have been unique takoyaki that are eaten by dipping it into ponzu vinegar and tempura dipping sauce, inspired by akashiyaki which is eaten by dipping it into dashi soup stock first. Furthermore, each store is creating new takoyaki that embodies the store’s uniqueness on a daily basis by adding variations to the flavor, such as adding shichimi pepper (a blend of seven spices) and mentaiko (walleye pollack roe) to their mayonnaise toppings.
Although there are several theories on the origin of takoyaki, the most likely theory is that it originated from a stall food called radioyaki, which was invented around 1921 and used cow line meat as an ingredient. Additionally, it is frequently said that akashiyaki is the origin, which used to be called tamago (egg) yaki in the Akashi region, Hyogo prefecture.
It is said that the first ever takoyaki in Japan was invented by the first owner of Aizuya, located in Nishinari ward, Osaka, in 1935. This takoyaki had soy sauce-flavored batter and did not use any sauce. It was said to be extremely simple. Afterward, during the period where food became scarce following World War II, takoyaki began to be made with lots of dashi stock as flour was not plentifully. It then evolved into “sauce takoyaki”, inspired by sauces in western food, and came to be eaten using toothpicks.
After making a batter with flour dissolved in dashi stock with water, it is then poured into several semi-spherical hollows about 5cm in diameter made from steel or copper. Afterward, ingredients such as octopus are added to each mold then heated.
The batter is poured uniformly and swiftly into the molds, and the octopus is inserted in the middle at a fixed tempo. When a thin skin starts to form, a cooking utensil called a senmai doshi, similar to an ice pick, is used to gather around the batter that has spilled out and put it back into the mold. It is important to quickly rotate the takoyaki being cooked 90 degrees during this process.
These techniques can be seen in shops where the cooking process is demonstrated. A skilled chef cooking a large volume of takoyaki quickly at a set tempo is a sight worth watching.
In recent years, several variations have been made.
Akashiyaki, which is said to be the one of the roots of takoyaki, is the most famous takoyaki with a local flavor. However, as takoyaki became popular, a wide variety of takoyaki that incorporated local ingredients were created.
1. Akashiyaki (Akashi, Hyogo prefecture)
Unlike takoyaki whose batter is mainly flour, the batter used for akashiyaki is mainly made with eggs. Its feature in particular is the fluffy batter made by beating egg whites. Using seasonings such as mitsuba, akashiyaki is eaten with a light dashi soup stock made with dried bonito and kombu seaweed.
Akashiyaki came to be made and eaten due to a lot of common octopus being caught in the Akashi Strait stretching between Awaji Island and Akashi City. This common octopus is well known throughout Japan as the branded seafood product, “Akashi octopus”. In addition, akashiyaki began to be made during the Edo period (1603-1868), having an older history than takoyaki.
2. Negidako (Katsushika, Tokyo)
Negidako originated in a takoyaki store in Shibamata, Katsushika, and became famous because its trademark was registered. As the name suggests, plenty of katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings) are added on top of the takoyaki along with a sprinkling of chopped leeks (negi).
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