Japanese Street Food Guide: Takoyaki (Octopus Balls)

By Avah Atherton
Updated: November 24, 2023

Takoyaki, Japan's irresistible octopus balls, have won the hearts of food lovers worldwide. This classic street food originates from Osaka and has a rich history and cultural significance. In this brief guide, we explain what takoyaki is, where to try it, and how to make it at home (with the right equipment).

Unsure what Japanese street food you'd like to try? Eat your way down the list on a Japanese street food tour.

What is Takoyaki?

A takoyaki ball with takoyaki sauce topped with seaweed and bonito flakes

Takoyaki is a popular Japanese street food made with a wheat flour batter filled with octopus, pickled ginger, and chopped chives. The batter is cooked in a special mold, which gives it its round shape, crispy crust, and gooey inside. The balls are then covered in takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and dried seaweed flakes. Eat them while they're hot!

The word "takoyaki" literally translates to "grilled octopus," but a more common translation is "octopus balls." Don't let the name's simplicity fool you; it doesn't do justice to the complexity of the flavors it contains. 

Types of Takoyaki

Takoyaki isn't limited to the traditional octopus filling. Modern variations have taken this snack to new heights, catering to diverse tastes and dietary preferences. Vegetarian takoyaki swaps out the octopus for ingredients like mushrooms or cheese, while vegan takoyaki uses plant-based alternatives, like tofu or vegetables, all while maintaining the scrumptious flavors.

Where to Eat Takoyaki

Takoyaki stall in Japan

In Japan, you don't have to go far to satisfy your takoyaki cravings. Wherever there are food stalls, be it matsuri (festivals) or other occasions, the longest waiting lines will undoubtedly lead to takoyaki. In some areas, you'll find hole-in-the-wall-type takoyaki stands where you can get your fill. 

See our list of spots to eat takoyaki in Tokyo.

How to Make Takoyaki

Making takoyaki at home is a fun experience. To whip up a batch, you'll need a takoyaki pan with half-sphere molds, ingredients (full list below), and the willingness to get a little messy!

Closeup of homemade takoyaki balls in a takoyaki pan

Takoyaki Recipe

To make takoyaki at home, here are the ingredients you will need:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups dashi (Japanese fish stock)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup tenkasu (tempura scraps) (optional)
  • 1/2 cup cooked octopus, diced
  • Takoyaki sauce 
  • Bonito flakes
  • Aonori (seaweed flakes)

Instructions: Whisk together the flour, dashi, and eggs in a mixing bowl until you get a smooth batter. Stir in the chopped green onions and tenkasu to the batter. Preheat a takoyaki pan and lightly grease it with oil. Pour the batter into each mold, filling it halfway. Place a piece of diced octopus in the center of each mold. Top with more batter until it's slightly overflowing. Cook over medium heat, rotating the balls with skewers, until all sides are golden brown and crispy. Transfer the takoyaki balls to a plate, drizzle with takoyaki sauce, and sprinkle with bonito flakes and aonori. 

You can easily substitute the takoyaki using equal parts ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. For vegan takoyaki, substitute the dashi for vegetarian stock, the octopus for whatever you like, and skip the bonito flakes.

How to Enjoy Takoyaki

A pan of homemade takoyaki

For a truly authentic experience, savor your takoyaki freshly made. Be careful, as they are piping hot on the inside! If you're trying them at home, use a generous amount of oil to grease the pan. The excess oil prevents the ingredients from sticking to the pan and helps create that crispy texture you will love. Home takoyaki pans are well-known for uneven heating, so keep rotating them in the pan for an even cook.

Takoyaki Roulette

At home parties in Japan, some groups play "takoyaki roulette," where one takoyaki ball in the lot is filled with a surprise ingredient, usually wasabi or spicy condiment. Participants take turns picking a takoyaki ball and hope for a non-tampered bite. It's a game that adds laughter and excitement to any gathering.

A set of eight takoyaki balls topped with takoyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, seaweed and bonito flakes

Not in the mood to whip up takoyaki at home? If you're in Japan and need help finding the tastiest takoyaki, sign up for a food tour. Residents and visitors alike will enjoy this takoyaki party option in Tokyo, where takoyaki and all-you-can-drink meet for an unforgettable night.

The popularity of this dish has spread worldwide, and you can find takoyaki variations in major cities across the globe. For an authentic experience, seek out Japanese restaurants or food festivals that feature takoyaki stalls. Let the compelling aroma guide you!

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Avah Atherton
Avah, a proud Trinidadian, has a meat mouth, a sweet tooth, and a mission to find good food and great experiences. Based in Tokyo, she enjoys long walks (especially if they lead to somewhere delicious), reading, live performances, and art exhibitions.
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