Takoyaki Japanese Street Food With A Surprise

Takoyaki is octopus-filled dough balls that are often sold as street food and are particularly popular at festivals.

Takoyaki is a popular Japanese street snack that is savory, salty, and simply amazing. Tako refers to octopus, whereas yaki refers to the cooking process, in this instance is griddle frying. Takoyaki batter is mixed with dashi (dry kelp and fish flakes) and filled with minced octopus, tempura crumbs, pickled ginger, and green onion.

Takoyaki has a tender and moist texture, normally served very hot. The chewy octopus adds an umami seafood flavor. Inside the batter, you’ll taste a small amount of seaweed flavor mixed inside from the dashi.  Common toppings are mayonnaise, dried tuna flakes, takoyaki sauce, and aonori (dried seaweed).

Takoyaki is a very popular street Japanese street food that is better known in western terminology as “octopus balls”. These little balls are made from a dough that is coated in a special takoyaki savory sauce and hides a piece of delicious octopus at the center.

Over time these little octopus balls have become increasingly popular both in Japan and in the West and can commonly be found at summer festivals, major celebrations, and even just on the street.

chef cooks takoyaki at Dotonbori street in Osaka

The ball itself has a melted cheese-like consistency and hasn’t been fully cooked through. With a garnish of fish flakes (Bonito), it’s topped with a sticky-sweet black sauce and Japanese mayonnaise.   Round molds are used to cook the takoyaki batter and are turned with metal sticks during the cooking process.

They make for a great lunch or a delicious snack if you are on the go and do not have the time to stop for a sit-down meal.

But, where did takoyaki come from and why is it so popular? Here we’ll tell you all you need to know about this deliciously tasty treat from its history to how it is eaten in modern-day Japan.

The history of takoyaki

Although the modern version of takoyaki contains a piece of octopus at its center, the original version of takoyaki actually contained beef. The dish is thought to have originated in Osaka by a street food vendor called Tomekichi Endo in 1935. 

Dotonbori Osaka’s famous food street that has many takoyaki restaurants and street vendors

Endo did not create this dish from scratch but actually adapted an older recipe to create something new and exciting. The original style of the dish was called “choboyaki” and was a piece of dough in the shape of a flattened rectangle with much the same ingredients as takoyaki.

The choboyaki became reinvented as rajioyaki, named after the new technological invention, “the radio” (shaped round at the time). The rajioyaki share the much-beloved circular shape with the takoyaki but contained beef as its surprise filling.

Over time this beef filling was replaced with small cut pieces of octopus and thus takoyaki as it is known and loved today was born.

 octopus holding takoyaki above a restaurant in Osaka’s Dotonbori Street

As takoyaki exists today there are many slight variations on the dish depending on where you are in the country. However, takoyaki is popular all over Japan and can often be found at festivals, supermarkets and even being sold by street food vendors in stalls known as “yatai”.

Why is takoyaki so popular in Japan?

When it comes to asking why takoyaki is so popular with Japanese people there are many different reasons. Not only is any form of dough delicious, but it is also particularly sought after when a small piece of octopus and a wonderfully tasty savory sauce is added.

Not only is takoyaki very delicious, but its round shape is also highly amusing. The cute little octopus balls make it a great snack food as you can pick at it and eat as quickly or as slowly as you want.

people wait outside a restaurant popular for the Dotonbori`s favorite delicacy, takoyaki 

Takoyaki is often served with small sticks (similar to toothpicks) so that you can share the food easily with your friends.

Takoyaki also makes a festival food as it works so well as a snack. In fact, you can think of it as being the Japanese equivalent to french fries at a carnival or fair in the west.

Takoyaki topped with bonito flakes

Takoyaki is typically served in little paper boat-style containers, meaning that you can eat on the go and there is no need to sit down to eat. You can have your tasty food while you go about your day.

The equipment

Takoyaki is made in a special pan that is molded with little hemispheres. The pan is a cast iron griddle that evenly cooks the batter turning it slightly pink in the process. As the octopus balls are cooking the cook will turn them using a small stick in order to allow them to cook evenly on all sides and to avoid any burning. 

Home Takoyaki maker along with garnishes

When at a festival you will normally see the traditional gas-fuelled takoyaki pan being used although for home use the electric versions are much more popular. These home versions look more like a hotplate with half shpreres and stovetop varieties can also be purchased.

Online stores selling supplies for making Takoyaki at home:

Japan Centre

Global Kitchen Japan

The ingredients

There is no exact takoyaki recipe as each family and region in Japan, puts its own spin on the traditional takoyaki recipe. So, you can choose to follow the traditional ingredients or mix it up and add your own flavors to make the dish truly yours.

For a traditional takoyaki recipe you will need:

  • 2 cups of dashi
  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 ml of soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 140-170 g of octopus (mined, sliced or however else you like)
  • Green onions to decorate
  • 2 teaspoons of pickled ginger

Making takoyaki at home

Although octopus balls are usually street food you can make them at home, following a traditional method or making up your own as you go along. To make your own version of takoyaki you should take the above ingredients as a guideline and add any other flavors that you like.

Festival stall selling takoyaki in Japan

Takoyaki cooks very quickly, taking approximately four minutes in total. This means that they will need to cook for only two minutes on either side before being flipped using a toothpick. So, you should keep a close eye on your takoyaki to ensure that they do not burn.

Once you have cooked your octopus balls to perfection, remove them from the pan and add any toppings that you would like. Typically these would include things like takoyaki sauce, mayo, fish flakes, or even green onion.

Final Thoughts

Takoyaki, or octopus balls, are a very popular street food that can also be made at home. Their popularity means that they have not only spread all over Japan but are also known in Western culture. You can choose to have takoyaki the traditional way or add your own toppings to personalize the flavor of the dish.

Thought to have originated in Osaka in the 1930s, takoyaki is certainly not a dish that is disappearing any time soon and this is shown by its increasing popularity at summer festivals across Japan, on the street, and even in-home cooking. Takoyaki’s shape makes it the perfect food to eat by yourself on the go or to share with family and friends.

Japanese Festival Street Stall Making Takoyaki

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.