What is Takoyaki?

Takoyaki (たこ焼き, literally “grilled octopus”) is a dish made of wheat batter and filling, usually octopus or a similar type of seafood. Takoyaki is grilled in pans with small half-dome compartments and then flipped to give them their round shape, similar to the Danish aebleskiver. Takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed and bonito flakes are all popular toppings for takoyaki, and some restaurants experiment with more exotic ingredients like jalapenos, truffle oil or parmesan cheese.

Origins of Takoyaki

takoyaki in a dish

Takoyaki is thought to be invented by an Osaka street vendor named Tomekichi Endo in 1935. Endo sold choboyaki, an earlier version of takoyaki that used similar ingredients but had a flattened shape. Inspired by akashiyaki or tamagoyaki, an eggy octopus dumpling meant for dipping in broth, Endo began experimenting with ingredients and created the modern takoyaki as we know it.

Another theory of how modern takoyaki came to be is that the popular descendant of choboyaki, radioyaki (ラジオ焼き), evolved into takoyaki when a traveler from Akashi (the town where akashiyaki originated) told a radioyaki vendor that octopus was more popular in Akashi than the cuts of marinated meat used in radioyaki. The addition of octopus turned out to be far more popular than either choboyaki or radioyaki and transformed the dish into the modern-day takoyaki.

Flour Power

making takoyaki

Takoyaki stands out in Japanese cuisine particularly because it is made with wheat batter. Other wheat-based dishes popular in Japan include okonomiyaki and yakisoba, which are also popular street food dishes cooked on a grill. These dishes are particularly significant because Japan’s culinary traditions did not widely include wheat until it was introduced by outside influences, particularly Western nations.

Wheat is believed to have come to Japan in the Nara period (710-748 AD), and was used to create udon and other types of noodles, as well as batter for dumplings; however, rice remained the staple grain in Japan. In recent history, the rise in the use of wheat flour is largely due to rice shortages during times of natural disaster or reconstruction, such as the Tokyo Earthquake of 1923 and after WWII when merikan-ko or "American flour" became inexpensive and widely available.

Rather than recreating Western foods such as griddle cakes or biscuits, Japanese cooks used wheat flour to create inventive dishes that were unmistakably Japanese in style and flavor and improved upon these dishes by borrowing from regional traditions around Japan.

Takoyaki Today

takoyaki takoyaki with corn takoyaki again

Takoyaki is best-known as a treat sold in food stalls at summer festivals, especially in Osaka, but it is also made in many homes and sold in restaurants and supermarkets around the world. Takoyaki is especially popular on the West Coast of the United States where many Japanese restaurants offer it as an appetizer.

Changes in food preferences have led to gluten-free takoyaki becoming increasingly popular. Vegan and vegetarian options are also gaining in popularity.

Delicious both hot and cold, takoyaki makes a great snack to eat on the go or with friends.

Want to make your own takoyaki? Check out our easy recipe here!