“Don’t leave Japan without trying to octopus balls.”
That was a verbatim piece of advice from a friend who lived in the Land of the Rising Sun before I ventured there this summer. Octopus WHAT? Are you kidding me?
I will admit, “octopus balls” isn’t exactly the most appealing designation… so perhaps we should stick to referring to them by their Japanese title: takoyaki. Hopefully your level of interest in actually trying this dish has peaked a little now that we are referring to it as something which sounds a bit more appetizing. I can tell you that this dish is not only delicious, but its quick cooking process is actually quite fascinating.
The takoyaki begins with a special pan called a takoyakiki, which is a cast iron skillet with half-spherical shapes molded into it. Batter (which includes ginger, tempura scraps and green onion) is poured into these half-spheres and then pieces of octopus are placed on top; the cooked half-sphere is then topped with an identical one to make a little ball with a delicious piece of octopus inside.
After the takoyaki is taken out of the mold, it is topped with several things, including okonomiyaki sauce, ponzu, mayonnaise, and fish shavings. The okonomiyaki sauce is similar to a Worcestershire but thicker and sweeter, while ponzu is similar to a soy sauce and much saltier. Together the two bring opposite yet complimenting flavors to the takoyaki, which is quite mild without its toppings.
I bought my first takoyaki from a street vendor located on a busy street in Osaka while surrounded by the strange sights, sounds and smells of a city in which absolutely everything seemed incredibly new to me. Soaking up the experience of eating from a street vendor—and trying one of the region’s specialties—was the least that I could do in an attempt to assimilate to a culture which was so fascinating, so different, and so far from what I knew that I cannot describe it with any other word except “foreign”.