Described by some as the Japanese version of Thanksgiving and Halloween combined, Obon is the midsummer celebration of life, remembering those who have passed, and to show gratitude for the everyday gifts often taken for granted. While each region may celebrate Obon in its own distinctive way, one thing remains constant: the integral role of food in fostering a sense of togetherness and community.
At the heart of Obon festivities, takoyaki emerges as a culinary delight that encapsulates the spirit of this joyous occasion. Otherwise known as “octopus balls,” takoyaki is a unique creation that tantalizes taste buds with its savory and crispy exterior, revealing a warm and tender surprise within. The combination of flavors and textures makes it a true gastronomic delight and an essential part of the Obon experience.
Origin Of Takoyaki
It’s hard to imagine a Japanese festival without revelers walking the streets with hands full of takoyaki skewers, but it’s a relatively recent innovation. Takoyaki as we know it dates back to Osaka in the 1930s, where it originated as a twist on akashiyaki, an egg-rich dumpling stuffed with chopped octopus. With time, more mix-ins joined the batter, such as konjac, chopped scallions, red pickled ginger, tempura flakes, all manner of seafood, and in more modern renditions, even chunks of cheese.
Takoyaki owes its distinctive taste and texture to its key ingredient, octopus, which is finely chopped and mixed with a batter made of flour, eggs, and dashi broth. Cooked in specially designed takoyaki pans with half-spherical molds, these bite-sized morsels emerge from the hot iron as perfectly golden spheres, creating an ideal contrast of crispy outside and soft yet chewy interior.
How to Make Vegan Takoyaki
If you’re sitting there thinking, “well, that doesn’t sound very vegan-friendly,” you’re right! It may seem like quite a task to remove all the animal products, but it’s a lot easier than you’d think. Shirataki noodles, made from glucomannan, which is fiber that comes from the konjac plant, has a unique bouncy texture that mimics the mouthfeel of cooked octopus surprisingly well. Black salt adds an eggy flavor to the batter, while miso incorporates a subtle umami taste.
For the sake of simplicity, sweet American BBQ sauce is a close dupe for Japanese takoyaki sauce, and a drizzle of creamy mayo is always invited to the party. Each bite encapsulates a harmonious medley of flavors, showcasing the savory batter and fillings, the sweet tanginess of the sauce, and the rich indulgence of the mayo.
Making Takoyaki at Home
There are special takoyaki pans you can buy, made for cooking over a hot grill or open fire, or more user-friendly electric models made for plug-and-play convenience. What I find striking is that few people make the connection between takoyaki and Danish aebleskiver pans. Designed precisely for making round griddled pancakes, they’re ideal for takoyaki, too.
Takoyaki holds a special place in the hearts of those who partake in Obon celebrations. As families and communities gather to honor their loved ones, the act of sharing takoyaki becomes a bonding experience, fostering a sense of togetherness and continuity. The sizzling of the batter as it hits hot takoyaki pans is part of the background music that brings the scene to life, like something out of a movie, but better. Food allows us to recreate that feeling anywhere in the world, which is what makes takoyaki so special, whether you can celebrate Obon in person or at home.