While some people may find the concept of eating grilled octopus a bit strange, well, takoyaki is here to change your mind. This quintessential summer dish is a popular festival food all across Japan. Originating from Osaka Prefecture, takoyaki consists of pan-fried balls that are made with a savory mix of batter, green onions, benishouga (pickled red ginger), and pieces of octopus. Hot off the griddle, they are slathered in a tangy sauce and sprinkled with katsuobushi fish flakes. So, what makes takoyaki stand out among all the other Japanese street food? Though it looks simple, the flavors and textures are complex with a crispy exterior and a soft and gooey interior, which is great as both an afternoon snack or paired with your beer!
At festivals and shopping streets, you can watch takoyaki being made right in front of your eyes. Due to its rising popularity, you can also find takoyaki in high-end restaurants and convenience stores, and because of its easy preparation and simple ingredients, you can even whip them up at home! And later in this article, we cover the best places to eat takoyaki in Tokyo! But first, a word of warning to takoyaki newbies: takoyaki is served while it’s piping hot, so you should let it cool off a bit if you don't want to scald your tastebuds. If you do get burned, a serving of kakigori shaved ice or an ice-cold beer can do the trick.
Takoyaki is a reinvention of another Japanese street food called akashiyaki, which is made with an eggy batter containing octopus. Street vendor Tomekichi Endo tweaked that original akashiyaki recipe and gave birth to the sensational takoyaki dish in 1935. Now, you can have a taste of takoyaki anywhere, from food stalls to specialty takoyaki shops, to convenience stores and restaurants. Typically, takoyaki is served with a special sweet sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and dried seaweed or katsuobushi fish flakes on top. Takoyaki also, like most foods, goes great with cheese.
How to Make Takoyaki
There are plenty of places all over Japan where you can eat takoyaki but if you fancy making it for yourself, you can always do it at home. It only calls for a few ingredients. However, you’re going to need a special pan to fry these octopus balls. It’s the heavy pan with half-spherical molds which creates that iconic ball-shaped takoyaki. Now, for the batter. You can always make one from scratch but if you don’t have time, you can always opt for a pre-mix. The batter is typically made with flour, dashi, eggs, baking powder, salt, and soy sauce. You may find the batter runny but once cooked, it will become fluffy.
Once everything is ready and your pan is hot, it’s time to cook. Apply a generous amount of oil to avoid sticking and to give your takoyaki a nice crispy exterior. After that, pour the batter into the pan, and then your other ingredients. Add chopped pieces of octopus, green onions, ginger, and if you have it, tenkatsu (leftover bits of crunchy tempura batter). Add more takoyaki batter to keep the ingredients together. Once the edges cook and it starts to lose its glossiness, you can flip the takoyaki and cook it on the other side until you achieve the perfect golden brown hue.
How to Eat Takoyaki
To enhance the flavor, you can always add toppings. Now, this is the fun part because you get to experiment what goes well with your takoyaki. Remove the takoyaki balls from the pan and slather them in takoyaki sauce. You can make an imitation sauce with a Worcestershire sauce, mentsuyu (Japanese noodle soup base), ketchup, and a little sugar. Then, you can drizzle it with ketchup and sprinkle on aonori (powdered green seaweed) and katsuobushi (fish flakes) to your liking.
Mayonnaise is one of the most popular okonomiyaki toppings. It may sound strange to pair these octopus balls with mayonnaise but it actually works! Made with rice vinegar and egg yolks, Japanese mayonnaise has a richer taste than Western mayo. Because it uses egg yolks instead of the whole egg, it has a more pronounced yellow hue. Of course, let’s not forget katsuobushi (bonito flakes) made with dried and fermented skipjack tuna. It is smoked, then shaved paper-thin. It is probably the most unique part of takoyaki because of the way the katsuobushi fish flakes dance from the heat of the takoyaki.
Takoyaki can also be eaten using chopsticks, a skewer, or a fork. Whatever works for you. Of course, one must be careful when eating takoyaki because it may look already cool on the outside but the gooey inside is usually still piping hot.
Best Places to Eat Takoyaki in Tokyo
Takoyaki is the perfect comfort food, served up hot and fast at takoyaki shops, izakayas, and street stalls all over Japan. It's so convenient, perfect for when you want to grab a bite on-the-go. Check out some of the best places to eat takoyaki in Tokyo below. The list is complete with takoyaki specialty shops and izakayas where you can get your takoyaki fix!
Takoyaki Shops in Tokyo
Here are some fantastic takoyaki shops to check out in Tokyo!
- Ginza Fukuyoshi
With over 300 shops all over Japan, Gindako is probably the most popular takoyaki chain in the country. Since they opened in 1997, the business grew and grew and now Gindako even had stores across Asia in Singapore, Taiwan, China, and Thailand, to name a few. Their must-try flavors are their ebi (shrimp) tartar and cheese mentaiko (pollock roe).
2. Ginza Fukuyoshi
If you're looking for traditional takoyaki in Tokyo, then you should try Ginza Fukuyoshi. Their takoyaki is fluffy, possibly the fluffiest takoyaki you’ll ever have. It might be due to their special batter, which is always made from scratch with a generous amount of dashi. They also have several filling options, like small shrimp or beef, and their negi takoyaki is topped with a generous amount of chopped spring onions.
Takahachi in Shinbashi is a takoyaki and oden shop which originated in Osaka and expanded to Tokyo in 1979. But Takahachi serves up a unique style of takoyaki; instead of being served topped with sauce and mayo, the octopus balls are dipped in dashi to enhance the flavor. This style is akin to the old method of eating akashiyaki, the precursor to takoyaki.
If you don’t like waiting for a long time, then Tempu, near Shibuya Station, is the takoyaki shop for you. The owner, hailing from Osaka, opened shop in 2014. Since the counter seating can only accommodate up to 10 people, it isn't unusual for the shop to get packed with customers standing around and eating. The atmosphere is super friendly and homey, with self-service drinks like beer and soda, and it's easy to strike up a conversation with other customers. Tempu is a cozy, local hole-in-the-wall where people feel at ease.
Do you fancy your takoyaki with truffle? How about lemon or garlic? Well, you can try a variety of flavors at Takoazabu. It’s an izakaya-style takoyaki restaurant which is home to 11 types of takoyaki! Whether you feel like indulging with a takoyaki topped with truffle or want to keep it simple with some lemon and pepper, they have got the perfect takoyaki dish for you. Pair it with beer or sake and you’re good to go.
Next time you’re in Tokyo, whether you’re at a festival or wandering around the streets looking for something special and unique to eat, visit one of shops for takoyaki in Tokyo and fuel up with delicious octopus balls.