Takoyaki, the great street snack that's fun to make at home

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[Note: I am reposting this article from the archives because of this paragraph. Several people have said in the comments that a Danish Æbleskiver or ebleskiver pan would be a good substitute for a takoyaki pan. You also see this mentioned on other sites. I finally got a chance to hold a real ebleskiver pan in my hands, and the bad news is that I am not sure it really would make a good substitute. The pan makes round cakes shaped similarly to takoyaki, for sure, but they are maybe 5 to 6 times the size of a takoyaki. So what you'd end up with are huge dumplings, which would need to be cooked a lot longer than takoyaki do. One of the main features of a takoyaki is the contrast between the slightly crispy outside which gradually softens under the sauce, and the just-cooked, piping hot creamy interior. I really don't think you can get that with a huge er, ball. But if you have tried it for yourself, please let me know.

Another note: The video I mention below that was so great has been withdrawn due to copyright violation from YouTube. I'll replace it with more complete instructions as soon as I can, but in the meantime you can still make takoyaki from the recipe.

This was originally published in July 2007.]

Takoyaki is the small, round cousin of okonomiyaki, and like okonomiyaki it originated in Osaka. It's basically a flavored batter with a tiny piece of octopus (tako) inside, and is a quintessential street food snack.

Since my family is from the Tokyo-Saitama area (the Kanto area), this puts me at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to making takoyaki. Sure I've had it dozens of times, but I can't say I have had the chance of seeing it made really up close. With okonomiyaki, my ex-brother in law was from Osaka and we got to enjoy his okonomiyaki making prowess, which was one of his few redeeming features, quite a lot. But his tabletop cooking skills did not extend to takoyaki.

I do have some books and so on dedicated to the subject. But I didn't really 'get' how to make takoyaki until I stumbled upon a terrific how-to video. It's far better than anything I can come up with myself, so I would simply like to transcribe and translate it for your benefit, with my notes. The recipe and method described turn out terrific takoyaki - piping hot, slightly crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside.

Takoyaki maker or takoyaki plate?

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Takoyaki making is quite time consuming, and the little balls are best eaten while piping hot, so I recommend a tabletop model over a takoyaki plate you put on the stovetop. Also note that if you have an electric, ceramic top or induction range (as I do), a regular takoyaki plate will not function properly since there won't be enough contact surface. My takoyaki maker is a fairly inexpensive single-purpose electric model. You can also get fancier models with interchangeable plates for grilling, teppanyaki, etc besides the takoyaki plate.

Takoyaki makers are available at Japanese-oriented electronic or housewares stores. Cheap ones are also available on eBay, but be aware that most are Japanese 100W - 50/60hz models, which will not work as-is in Europe. They will work on U.S. 110W but could potentially be a fire hazard, so for safety you should use them with a transformer. (If you're buying a takoyaki maker in Tokyo, be sure to let the salesperson know you will be using it overseas. If you're shopping in Akihabara they're used to dealing with this situation.)

It's generally not recommended to use takoyaki plates on a tabletop gas cooker by the way, because the plate can trap heat underneath and potentially damage the cooker surface. So if you do get a takoyaki plate, just use it on your stovetop.

Other equipment you need

  • A brush or a wad of cotton wool or paper towel to oil the takoyaki plate. You can get a dedicated takoyaki brush, but I just use a makeshift paper towel 'brush'.
  • A wooden skewer or two to flip the takoyaki. Never use metal skewers, which can damage the surface of the plate. Cocktail sticks are not good either since your hand will be too close to the hot surface of the griddle.
  • A small ladle to pour the batter.

The best takoyaki instructions ever

So, here is the video that teaches you all! It's a segment from an NHK program called _Takmeshite gatten_ (ためしてガッテン), which sort of means "Try it out and be convinced", a show that tries out various theories and methods (not just related to cooking) and sees what the best way is. Anyway, watch the video all the way through first. The title of the segment is "Make pro quality takoyaki at home!"

(The video has been removed since it's no longer functioning. I'll replace it with my own instructions as soon as possible. You can still use the recipe below though.)

The batter recipe

This batter is really easy to make, and yields great takoyaki! No fiddling about with grated nagaimo or anything, and no need to buy special okonomiyaki flour. They say it's for 4 people. I've found makes about 60 balls in total (allowing for some mistakes).

  • 300g / 10.5 oz hakuriki ko (low-gluten white flour): use cake flour (preferred) or all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 liter (4 1/4 cups) of ice water, with the cubes strained out before adding to the mix
  • 3 grams salt (about 2/3 tsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. kombu dashi stock granules
  • 1/2 tsp. katsuo dashi stock granules
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce

My adjustments: I made dashi stock using the cold water method instead of using the dashi stock granules, and increased the salt to 5 grams to compensate. The dashi was ice cold from being in the fridge anyway, so I just put in a few ice cubes. The water/dashi is ice cold to prevent the gluten in the flour from developping. If you are using dashi granules, you can just use a teaspoon of one type (such as Hondashi (which is a brand name by the way)).

To make the batter: Beat the eggs, and mix together with the ice water and dashi stock granules (or ice cold dashi) and soy sauce. Add the flour, and mix together lightly. Don't worry about getting all the lumps out - it's best not to overmix the batter. So easy!

The octopus (tako)

You just need a small amount of boiled octopus legs. It should ideally be cut up so each piece gets a bit of the suckers, for texture.

Now, call me blasphemous, but I do not think you necessarily need octopus to make takoyaki. You just need a little bit of something to provide a change in texture. I have used things like cut up chikuwa, squid legs, or (gasp, horror) wieners instead of the octopus. (My experimentation in this area came about when the fishmonger refused to sell me a single octopus leg, and I didn't want to deal with a whole ugly octopus.) Whatever you use, just have it cut up into little squares and ready to go.

The oil

You need some flavorless cooking oil to oil the takoyaki pan. I use peanut oil.

Making the takoyaki

The points:

  • Heat up the pan before starting.
  • Oil the little sections (they are using a dedicated oiling brush, but you can use a wadded up paper towel or a wad of cotton wool held with chopsticks. Be sure to oil the top of the pan too.)
  • Pour in the batter - don't worry if it overflows a bit. You don't need to fill all the compartments either (I find that dealing with 14 or 15 compartments at a time is my maximum. If you are just starting out, try about 8 or 10. For some reason, all Japanese takoyaki makers have 18 compartments.)
  • As soon as the batter is poured, drop in the octopus bits, one per compartment.
  • When the outsides are sort of dried out, cut through the connected bits (where the batter ran out) and turn them over about 90 degrees with the wooden skewer. If you turn them too early the takoyaki will collapse and turn into a sad, ragged lump of goo. It takes a bit of practice to gauge when to turn the balls over, but you soon get the hang of it.
  • Turn the balls over all the way. Keep flipping then round and round with the skewer.
  • If the ball has a little hole, add a tiny bit of batter to an empty section and put the ball hole-side down into the batter (around 2:20-2:40)
  • The takoyaki are done with they feel lighter when you poke and turn them with the skewer, and are lightly browned a a bit crispy on the outside.
  • The key is for the takoyaki to be hollow on the inside. This allows the insides to steam, which cooks them nicely while retaining a creamy texture.

It only takes them a minute or so to make the takoyaki in the video, but it is edited down. I find it takes about 7-8 minutes per batch. Your results may vary.

Serve immediately with chopsticks or cocktail sticks, and dipping sauces.

The dipping sauces

When you buy takoyaki, they usually come smothered in okonomiyaki or 'Bulldog' sauce, sometimes mayonnaise, bonito flakes, powdered aonori (a green nori) and pickled red ginger. But I really like the less-is-more suggestions. They have three dipping sauces:

  • Okonomiyaki or 'Bulldog' sauce, the conventional dipping sauce. You can mix this with mayonnaise. (My suggestion is to buy either one type of 'Bulldog' sauce and adjust if necessary for things like okonomiyaki and takoyaki instead of buying a bunch of sauces that are labeled as okonomiyaki sauce and so on. They all taste fairly similar.)
  • Nihai-zu: 150ml (about 2/3 cup) dashi stock, 1 Tbs. soy sauce, 2 tsp. vinegar. This is my favorite - the slight sourness with the saltiness is very refreshing.
  • Osumashi (clear soup): 500ml (a bit more than 2 cups) dashi stock, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. soy sauce. This is good if it's ice cold, to counteract the piping hot takoyaki.

You could also try: regular American 'steak sauce' mixed with a bit of mayonnaise; oyster sauce; sweet chili sauce; barbeque sauce; even olive oil mixed with salt. Experiment!

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Once you have had freshly made, hot off the griddle takoyaki, you will never buy those frozen dough balls again. Cold takoyaki can be reheated, but really - they are so much superior freshly made, that I never bother to make extra.

I do hope the video doesn't get taken down - if it is I'll replace the instructions here accordingly. In the meantime, watch it a few times and witha little practice, you'll be on your way to takoyaki perfection! (Footnote: At the end of the video, the celebrities each write a little poem (haiku-like but not quite) about takoyaki. A bit corny perhaps, but it made me think about writing little poems to some of my memorable meals!)

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