Making takoyaki: a morning spent watching a Japanese chef

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).

Takoyaki on display in a box


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:

Chef Ryota Akai of Japan turns takoyaki during a demonstration of takoyaki cooking at Mitsuwa Market in Costa Mesa, California.


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.

This diptych shows just how fast Chef Ryota Akai’s hands move.  In the first exposure you can see a takoyaki on the left of the pan that the chef has just started moving, and in the second exposure you can see that the first takoyaki is still moving while he’s now spun a second takoyaki with his other hand. Less than a second passed between the two exposures.


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).

Four images showing the first steps in making takoyaki: oiling the pan, adding chopped bits of octopus, pouring in batter, and then dropping on scallions.  See this image if you want to see the behind-the-scenes grill controls and chopped vegetables.


After all the ingredients have been added, the dough is left to cook for a while.

The three major stages of takoyaki cooking.  An empty takoyaki pan can be seen in the background, a takoyaki pan filled with steaming batter and goodies (scallions, octopus, etc.) in the middle, and turned and nearly-complete takoyaki that have been formed into balls can be seen in the foreground.


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:

Eight vertically stacked images showing how takoyaki balls are formed by hand with chopsticks. The last seven frames of this sequence were shot over only two seconds time. All eight images can be seen separately, starting here.


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.

Takoyaki cooking on the grill.


And then they’re pulled off the grill and boxed up:

Chef Akai Ryota of Japan loads two cooked takoyaki into a box with chopsticks.


They’re then drizzled with sauce, topped with dried bonito, and sold hot off the grill.

A box of eight completed Takoyaki, made during a demonstration of takoyaki cooking at Mitsuwa Market in Costa Mesa, California.


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.

More pictures

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.

Making takoyaki – the highlights – Images by Marc Perkins

Getting There

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.

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