Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

You need these octopuds in your life

TAKOYAKI! So good I nearly ate the little bamboo boat.

TAKOYAKI! So good I nearly ate the little bamboo boat.

I can’t get takoyaki out of my head. Ever since that damascene moment in our work tea room on Sunday past when I tasted my very first example of the Japanese street food, I’ve been poring over articles on-line, salivating at pictures of the stuff and researching the best moulded pan to buy.

You may have noticed from the picture below that there’s a small smile on my face. That’s because I was about to experience that first takoyaki ball. Better still, you should have seen the head on me when I’d finished.

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Not to put too fine a point on it: Sunday’s tray of takoyaki – morsels of octopus, pickled ginger and spring onions encased in a golden spherical pancake which is then topped with Japanese Kenko mayonnaise, Okonomi sauce, seaweed flakes and chilli seasoning – was the best thing I have eaten this year.

It may well be the best thing I’ll eat for the rest of the year, which is why I’m already looking into fashioning my own on a regular basis.

Concocted by a colleague who holidayed in Japan last year, Sunday’s takoyaki (meaning fried/grilled octopus) was a new one on me and I was interested to discover what it might be like.

I had no idea it would affect me in quite the way that it did. I near collapse with sheer happiness; I scoffed that six-strong trayful and mourned their passing into a better place (my stomach). Is licking the serving receptacle considered a faux pas in Japanese society?

Crispy without and soft and creamy within, this home-made version of this most under-appreciated Japanese street food (around these parts at least) was a revelation.

TAKOYAKI! V for Japanese snacking victory. These amazeballs are coming to a cafe near you (hopefully).

TAKOYAKI! V for Japanese snacking victory. These amazeballs are coming to a cafe near you (hopefully).

How to describe it? Imagine you’ve a mouthful  of the best pancake you’ve ever eaten, but imagine it’s entirely spherical, like a savoury profiterole and then add spiky sauce to the equation. 

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Now add a bit of seaside tang from the octopus and the seaweed flakes. Add the freshness of the spring onion, the slight kick from the chilli seasoning, the coolness of the mayo, the heat from the ginger and BOOM! – it’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten.

Each of the ingredients are uninspired on their own but when they’re all mixed up in a majestic melange, something magical happens – like Japanese alchemy – and the resulting taste explosion is the very essence of Nippon happiness.

If, at this stage you’re thinking that the octopus might be a tentacle too far, then you might as well stop reading now. No picky eaters need apply.
It would be a pity though, if you wouldn’t try octopus and you have stopped reading. It isn’t often that I say this, but the flavour combination in takoyaki is completely new to me and that makes it all the more exciting.

Having eaten six of the best so far (I’m counting), the octopus isn’t over-powering in the slightest. In fact, it’s mildly flavoured and only adds a touch of textural difference within the soft and creamy interior. I would also go so far as to say, that if I was an octopus, I would want to be eaten in glorious takoyaki.

Ronan – the canny cook who introduced me to these balls of magnificence – reckons takoyaki are a little rich, but to me they’re only moreish. They’re rich yes, but  it’s a richness you’d gladly wash down with an ice-cold glass of Sapporo (or two). And it isn’t a richness which would prevent you from eating ten on the bounce.

Basically, takoyaki is Japan’s answer to our burgers or our gravy-pea-chips in that it’s sold from stalls and it’s eaten on the hoof. Unlike our burger joints and chippers however, there are hardly any takoyaki joints down town last I checked, nary a one in fact.

That leads me to my next supposition… Should I be the man to bring takoyaki to the masses in Ireland. It would certainly be fun in the doing and to boot, I could scoff as many as I liked. But could I do it?

Only time will tell. For now though, there’s the small matter of eating many, many more.

TAKOYAKI!

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Pictured at the launch of Festival Lough Erne, from left, Tanya Cathcart, Fermanagh Lakeland Tourism, Sarah McHugh, Fermanagh and...