Takoyaki: octopus balls street food you can actually eat

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  August 3, 2022

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Takoyaki is the most loved and well-known street food from Japan, which has a perfectly round shape, so it’s commonly served on a paper plate with two toothpicks, so you can actually eat it.

These delectable and fluffy round dumplings were invented and popularized by a street vendor in 1935 in Osaka, by the name Tomekichi Endo.

Tomekichi didn’t create a revolutionary dish of his own, but he took a more simplistic and flavorful take on Choboyaki. Soon enough, all of Japan was raving over Osaka’s popular Takoyaki.

Takoyaki history
Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

Eventually, all of Japan was made aware of a street vendor in Osaka’s ingenious street food invention.

The choboyaki the dish was based on was supposedly more rectangular and less flavorful than what Tomekichi conjured.

Regardless, people in Japan were raving about Takoyaki! So much so that today you can expect to find Takoyaki not just at festivals but in convenience stores, fine dining, and even in many households.

Takoyaki is a dumpling filled with tako (baby octopus) at its center along with cabbage, spring onions, and pickled ginger. Every household and vendor has its variant, but these are the basic ingredients.

The dumpling is then cooked in a special pan known as the Takoyaki pan and served with, you guessed it, Takoyaki sauce.

Usually flavored with onion and ginger, these fluffy octopus-filled dumplings were inspired by a traditional beef dumpling of Akashi.

If you were to translate it into English directly, it would be “octopus grill” because tako means octopus and yaki “to grill”.

As the demand grew, it was established amongst many restaurants and now also commercial stores, or supermarkets.

Takoyaki is a popular form of Japanese treat, commonly found (or most popularly found), in food stalls during summer festivals, especially in Osaka.

Takoyaki has multiple toppings to serve, including katsuobushi, takoyaki sauce, and Japanese mayo. Sometimes, people also sprinkle some bits of chili flakes or powder to add spiciness to the food.

What is takoyaki?

Takoyaki is a popular Japanese snack or appetizer. It is made from a wheat-based batter that is cooked in a specially molded pan.

It is usually filled with diced or minced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion.

The balls are brushed with takoyaki sauce, which is similar to Worcestershire sauce, and mayonnaise (the kewpie mayo has slightly different ingredients than American).

They are then sprinkled with green laver, dried bonito flake shavings, and other great takoyaki toppings.

Anything wheat-based is called konamono in Japan, read all about it here

As Japan’s number one street food, you would be able to find them easily from street vendors with stalls called yatai.

They are also widely available in traditional markets and festivals. If you are fond of Japanese cuisine, takoyaki must be on your try list.

To eat the takoyaki, hold the toothpicks the same way you hold chopsticks. But instead of tweezing the food with them, you spear it with them.

Vendors serve takoyaki right away after it is taken out of the stove because all the taste and aroma will gradually fade as the dish cools off. Hence, be careful not to burn your mouth.

The flavor of this dish is considered “umami” or savory. The taste is salty and rich, due to the seafood flavors of the octopus. While this dish is considered a snack, it can be enjoyed as a meal because it’s very filling.

History of takoyaki: is takoyaki from Japan?

Why is takoyaki so good

Takoyaki was originally from Osaka, circa 1935. The octopus fried ball is a transformation of what used to be called choboyaki. Choboyaki has similar ingredients as takoyaki.

A man by the name of Tomekichi Endo invented the takoyaki and popularized it in Osaka in 1935. He is a street vendor but was quite the smart cook.

But instead of a round ball, choboyaki was more like a flat square. Another difference is the filling, as choboyaki uses beef instead of octopus.

Choboyaki then evolved to rajioyaki, the very same food but with a ball shape like today’s takoyaki.

People still use beef as fillings, although it was not so long before people started switching it with octopus. This marked the birth of takoyaki.

This street snack gained its popularity real fast due to the unique octopus flavor. The chewy texture and light flavor of the briny meat makes a wonderful complement with the dashi and toppings.

People also try out many other things to use as fillings, but the name Takoyaki remains.

You can have the ball snack filled with shrimp, cheese, or tofu (for vegan option). Yet still, up until now, the most popular version is the octopus.

The takoyaki konamono derived from akashiyaki, which is a small spherical dumpling (made of an egg-rich batter and octopus) that originated from Akashi City in Hyōgo Prefecture.

Takoyaki-balls-Japanese-streetfood

With a new taste hitting the streets of Akashi City, so too its popularity started spreading across various regions which included Kansai, Kanto as well as the rest of the country as time went on.

It is believed that the first takoyaki snacks were introduced among the yatai street food stalls, which later evolved into takoyaki specialty restaurants, which are widespread across the Kansai region.

Today takoyaki has gained so much notoriety that it has become a household name in Japan. It is also sold at commercial outlets like 24-hour convenience stores and supermarkets.

The takoyaki dish is also very popular in Taiwan. Historically, the island nation is a common trading partner of Japan since ancient times. It has borrowed some Japanese cuisines and adopted them into their culture such as the takoyaki.

The oldest known takoyaki store is Aizuya in Osaka and was founded by the cuisine’s inventor himself, Tomakichi Endo in the 1930s. The store has remained operational to this day.

Before the takoyaki became famous for its octopus meat as one of its base ingredients, Endo first experimented with beef and konjac and improved the flavorings for the batter too!

Nicknamed as the “octopus balls”, the takoyaki was first known by that name before it was called takoyaki today. It became widespread across Japan as it was among the favorite in the classic Japanese street food stalls dipped in brown sauce.

Takoyaki in Osakatakoyaki

Although Takoyaki has now been widely popular and available throughout Japan, you still need to go to Osaka if you aim for an ultimate culinary adventure with these fried balls.

The town has more than 650 takoyaki stores, with subtle taste differences between one to another.

While most people serve takoyaki with multiple toppings, in Osaka you will see some takoyaki is garnished only with a pinch of salt to highlight the strong dashi flavor in the batter.

Another variation of a takoyaki is takosen, which is two takoyaki balls sandwiched between two crackers.

What makes takoyaki so popular?

Taste is one of the major reasons why food becomes famous. However, it goes beyond taste in the case of takoyaki.

Many consider takoyaki to be soul food. They claim that once eaten, it can stimulate a person’s taste buds to the extent that it touches the deepest part of a person’s heart.

You’ll crave more after taking your first bite!

Also, takoyaki is full of “umami,” a popular Japanese flavor. Many say that this flavor has majorly contributed to takoyaki as soul food, so long as you like eating tentacles, as well as other flavors derived from the sea.

Besides the numerous flavors that can be added to this dish, it can make someone cry because of the scale of its deliciousness.

Also, read about all of these types of pancake batters in Japan.

What are the popular ingredients in takoyaki?

As we’ve seen earlier, takoyaki is a ball-shaped Japanese snack consisting of wheat batter, octopus, ginger, garlic, green onion, and tempura.

In addition to this, the dish is covered with a sauce and Japanese mayonnaise.

It’s important to note that various Japanese shops in different cities have various toppings for this dish, ranging from mentaiko, bonito flakes, and soy sauce, amongst others.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.