family / friends Japanese

Takoyaki (Japanese Octopus Dumplings or Samurai Balls)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014Enz F

When I was in high school, I had a very good friend named Andy. He was my confidante and we could talk anything under the sun. We shared almost everything – from lunchboxes and Math seatworks to petty secrets and crushes. Almost every after class, my buddy Andy and I would always have a quick snack inside a mall just a stone’s throw away from our school. There was a famous lone-standing stall in the foodcourt that sells Japanese round balls stuffed with shredded cabbage and tiny bits of squids in, and topped with sweet mayonnaise and rich umami seasonings. I can still remember us keeping our spare 20-peso bill inside my pencil case as it could already buy us 4 pieces of those flavorful dumplings, two for Andy and two for me. My buddy and I fondly called them Samurai Balls (I am not quite sure if that was pertaining to the name of the stall or it was the samurai-like plastic pick served with the dumplings) before we came to know them as Takoyaki. It has been years now since I got to see Andy, the last was almost 4 years ago when he invited me to his wedding before he and his wife migrated to Canada for good. I am missing the wonderful times with my high school bestfriend so I decided to make our favorite dish to somehow reminisce the good old days. A special thanks to another good friend for lending me his magnificent pan dedicated for making takoyaki.

I called them Samurai Balls before I came to know them as Takoyaki.
Takoyaki is a combination of two Japanese words “tako” for octopus and “yaki” which means “to grill”. It is a well-loved Japanese appetizer, side dish and street food that was popularized during 1935 by Tomekichi Endo in Osaka, Japan. An inspiration from the similar but softer version known as akashiyaki, takoyaki is a batter shaped into balls made from wheat flour and dashi broth cooked in "takoyakiki" which is actually a specialized iron pan with half spherical moulds. Original recipe calls for the use of finely chopped octopus but any type of meat can be used as fillings like shrimps, sausages and chicken, and sometimes with cheese and some shredded vegetables of choice. 

"Tako" means octopus.
The dumplings are brushed with takoyaki or tonkatsu so-su, a thick sauce similar to Worcestershire sauce. For added sweetness, they are usually topped with Japanese mayonnaise but any regular store-bought mayonnaise will do. And for the distinct flavor of umami, they are drizzled with dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi) and powdered seaweeds (aonori). I used the ready-made fish powder seasoning to replicate the very elusive umami, the nostalgia of goodwill to a friend sealed by the distance miles away.
Takoyaki (Japanese Octopus Dumplings or Samurai Balls)
Yields 20 to 30 samurai balls

For the batter 
  • 1 cup all purpose flour 
  • 2 tsp. baking powder 
  • 1½ cup dashi stock (1½ tbsp. store-bought dashi powder dissolved in 1½ cup water) 
  • 2 whole eggs 
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce 
  • salt and sugar, to taste 
For the fillings 
  • ½ lbs. boiled squid or baby octopus, finely chopped 
  • 2 tbsps. spring onions, finely chopped 
  • 2 tbsps. pickled red ginger, finely chopped 
  • ¼ cup cabbage, finely chopped 
  • bonito flakes or fish powder/umami seasonings 
For the sauce and toppings 
  • Japanese mayonnaise (store-bought) 
  • takoyaki sauce, Worcestershire sauce or Tonkatsu sauce – whatever is most readily available (I used Worcestershire sauce) 
  • bonito flakes, fish powder or umami seasoning powder – whatever is most readily available (I used a combination of fish powder and umami seasoning) 
  • cooking oil, for greasing 

  1. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix well to combine. Set aside. 
  2. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and soy sauce. Pour the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Gradually add the dashi stock while continuously stirring to combine all the ingredients. 
  3. Using a brush, lightly grease with cooking oil the individual holes as well as the gap in between the takoyaki pan. Set the pan on stove top at low heat. 
  4. Pour the batter mixture on individual compartments up to the rim. Put some slices of squid or baby octopus, spring onions, cabbage and pickled ginger on each hole. Sprinkle with bonito flakes or fish powder/umami seasonings. 
  5. Once the bottom of the balls is set, flip to the other side using a stick or takoyaki pick. The batter should flow in each hole (add more batter if needed), creating the other half of the ball. 
  6. When the other side is set, loosen up again with stick and keep turning so that each piece will form into a nice sphere. Do that for 5 to 10 minutes until the balls are lightly brown and crispy. 
  7. Transfer the cooked takoyaki balls on a plate. Drizzle with sauce, top with mayonnaise and sprinkle with some powdered seasonings. Enjoy! 

  • You may use other meats/ seafoods like anchovies, shrimps, sausages or chicken in place of squids and octopus.

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