Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cooking with the Fam: Experimental Takoyaki Party

This may not be for the faint of heart. Takoyaki is one of my many favourite Japanese junk foods for so many reasons. The mountainous helpings of garnishes that cover this dish are more than enough to make this dish a winner: vibrant green onions, dancing bonito flakes that curl and twist in time to the heat and tiny specks of dried seaweed that lightly dust the sauces a foresty green. That's right, sauces plural. The un-descriptive takoyaki sauce shares the plate so well with its partner the Japanese Mayonnaise. It takes much longer in words to get past the toppings to finally reach the ball of dough itself. A slightly crispy outer layer of bonito stock batter greets the lucky diner followed by a burning hot, magma-like center ending with a piece of chewy octopus. The end to this marvelous journey may sound a bit off putting in writing but I can guarantee you that the result is pure deliciousness plus some possible first degree burns. It isn't true Kansai food if the center of the takoyaki is a few degrees shy the temperature of the center of the Earth, and I've taken to poking holes into them to let the heat escape before putting them near my mouth. It's worth the risk.

My Japanese language exchange partner kindly brought
me back a takoyaki grill.
Another reason why it's such a great food is the social aspect of having takoyaki parties with a bowl of batter, a ton of fillings (that aren't necessarily octopus) and a takoyaki cooker. Everyone sits around with their pointy turning sticks and waits for the dough to cook before magically swishing the takoyaki to the other side. It's truly an art that is impossible to describe and is best seen in action. This how the pros do it.

I visited Yamamoto-san on my way home from work perhaps too many times during my stay in Japan but now I realize there is nothing that can live up to this anytime snack.

So my cousin Mai Vy, of home made tofu fame, came to visit for a couple days. We started talking about stuff we could cook that evening and I honestly could never have guessed what we ended up eating that first night for supper...

Takoyaki minus tako (octopus) with batter help from
See batter recipe here at
We used whole wheat all-purpose flour and it turned out fine.

A pointy turning stick, we used wooden skewers
A takoyaki
Thinly sliced green onion
Dried Bonito Flakes
Dried seaweed flakes (Aonori)
Takoyaki sauce
Japanese Mayonnaise

Non octopus filling ideas?
Typical: Ham, Cheese, Shrimp
Weird but Asian: Kimchi, Natto, Woodear Mushroom, Vietnamese Ham (Cha Lua)
Weird: Peanut Butter, Herb & Garlic Cream Cheese
Untried but maybe good: Foie Gras, Hamburger

Oil up the takoyaki grill with a brush or some paper towel.

Place some green onions and pickled ginger in the bottom of each hole. Once things start sizzling, ladle in batter to fill each slot. Then place a tiny dollop/piece/dash of whatever your filling may be.

Once you feel the batter has had a chance to cook and set, take your poking flipping stick and give it a poke...
 and then flip it.

They should turn into a nice sphere, or something resembling a semi-spherical shape. Put them on a plate, top with the garnishes and sauces.

We ran out of Bonito flakes!
Overall, the fillings we chose weren't terrible ideas. Peanut butter was interesting, as it melted slightly and the peanuts on the outside were nicely roasted. Cream cheese was too creamy and only became more creamy. Considering the center of the takoyaki is already creamy, this was just two different consistencies of creaminess and this combination was just a bit strange. My cousin found the heated kim chi to only taste sour with no other flavour. We made a  few combination takoyaki and let's just say that PB and Cream Cheese didn't work. PB and Kim chi was alright! Too many combinations to cover really.  We ended up postulating that a chewy, semi-neutral flavoured, octopus-like protein would fit best in takoyaki.

Any ideas for future fillings?

Also, Mai Vy and I made Bánh cuon as well, and it turned out quite nicely, however all the pictures I took went to a mysterious void of nowhere because there was no memory card in the camera. Sigh.

the drums, the drums