If you know a bit of Japanese vocabulary, you probably know that the name Takoyaki (蛸焼) is quite literal. That is, “Tako,” or octopus, and “yaki,” a common suffix in Japanese food names meaning grilled or pan-fried. And that’s exactly what Takoyaki are: Pan-fried octopus balls!
What we now know as Takoyaki originated in Osaka in the 30s, although it wasn’t just invented out of the blue but rather was adapted from similar food traditions that had been around much longer.
These tasty bites are fun-sized spheres of batter with chopped octopus and a sprinkle of other ingredients like green onion, ginger, and bits of tempura inside. This mixture is cooked in a specialty iron griddle with tons of small, half-spherical indents into which the octopus batter is poured. Once a batch’s undersides are cooked, each ball is rapidly flipped using a special toothpick-like flipper. They finish cooking quickly, and then are ready to be served!
One of the keys to Takoyaki is that it should be eaten hot and fresh off the griddle. Often, you’ll hear people sucking in cold air alongside the piping hot Takoyaki in order to cool down their mouth and, it’s said, enhance flavor. They’re typically served in batches and topped with a sweet, tangy soy-based sauce like that used in okonomiyaki or eel kabayaki, along with a bit of Japanese mayonnaise and bonito flakes. (and seaweed)
The end result is a bite-sized snack that’s hot, steamy, savory, a bit sweet, chewy, and just satisfyingly delicious.