Takoyaki are a delicious treat: they’re a ball of savory fried dough with a custardy interior filled with bits of onions, peppers, and a chunk of meaty octopus. They’re often served covered in a slightly sweet sauce and topped with shaved bonito (dried fish).
I was introduced to Takoyaki by watching them being made on Dotch, a Japanese cooking show. I’ve since gotten to eat them at a couple of local Japanese restaurants (most notably Kohryu, my favorite ramen place), but had never seen them made in person.
Then, a few weeks ago, I went to a Japanese food festival at Mitsuwa Marketplace to be greeted by this happy sight just inside the entrance:
I was entranced, and quickly made arrangements to come back the next morning to spend some quality time there.
Making takoyaki is at once both simple and magical. The basic idea is that you cook batter in a pan with a bunch of depressions in it, forming a ball of cooked dough in each depression. But watching an experienced chef is pure magic: they’re dealing with dozens of takoyaki at once, their hands flying over the surface so quickly that their two chopsticks turn multiple takoyaki per second.
Assembling the takoyaki is fun to watch. It starts out by oiling the special dimpled pan, putting in just a hint of batter, adding octopi chunks, pouring in lots more batter, and then dropping in scallions and other goodies (which was nicely dramatic).
After all the ingredients have been added, the dough is left to cook for a while.
The true magic of the operation is turning that pile of wiggly-wobbly, half-cooked dough into a ball. You may note that it’s still flat, right? And half-cooked (if you don’t believe me, this shot shows the dough immediately before the chef forms it into a ball). To form the ball, the chef uses his chopsticks to wrap the half-cooked dough into a sphere. But this isn’t some slow, tedious process; the chef took less than three minutes to form an entire pan’s worth of takoyaki balls. The only way I could think to show both the speed of the process and the precision of the handwork was to merge a few images of the process into an eight-panel display:
Those eight images were taken over only 19 seconds, and in that time he’s formed 9 complete takoyaki. And the last seven of those frames, where he forms four takoyaki, were taken over only two seconds. That’s two takoyaki formed out of half-cooked, desperate-to-fall-apart dough per second. It was incredible to watch.
After being formed into balls, the takoyaki are turned regularly as they’re grilled until they become golden brown.
And then they’re pulled off the grill and boxed up:
They’re then drizzled with sauce, topped with dried bonito, and sold hot off the grill.
They didn’t look quite like the model they had on display (pictured at the start of this post), but they were delicious. I bought a box each day I was there, and I can’t wait for the next food festival so I can go back and get more.
Many thanks to chef Ryota Akai of Japan and all the workers of the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa for allowing me to photograph the process.
To see more pictures from the morning, head to my Making takoyaki: the highlights album or view the Flash slideshow below. Or, if you’re really a glutton for punishment, you can see all of the pictures from the demonstration in my Making takoyaki: the complete set album.
Mitsuwa Marketplace: Mitsuwa is a chain of Japanese marketplaces. I went to the one in Costa Mesa, California, which is at 665 Paularino Avenue, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Parking is free, with limited above-ground parking but a fairly large lot underneath the store. These pictures were taken at one of their Japanese Food Festivals, which they hold regularly throughout the year; check their website for more information.