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Takoyaki & Yatai July 19, 2011

Posted by Dru in Food.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Takoyaki & Yatai” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-rV

Takoyaki is a recent addition to Japanese cuisine that is extremely popular in the Osaka region.  The literal translation would be fried octopus, but I prefer to call it octopus balls. 😀  While there is no relation to the testicles of an octopus, it is by far the best way to imagine what takoyaki is.  The basic premise of takoyaki is to be something of a distant cousin of okonomiyaki.  You take a similar batter as that used in okonomiyaki, add a few extra bits and pieces, and put a relatively large chunk of octopus in the middle. Shape it into a ball and voila, takoyaki is born!

This sounds much easier than what real takoyaki is.  When visiting some Asian markets in the world, I have heard that takoyaki is served with fine cut octopus pieces.  This is one of the worst mistakes people can make.  The goal of takoyaki is to have a nice crispy golden ball with a big piece of octopus inside.  The crispy ball gives a nice crunch as you bite into the takoyaki, and the octopus inside provides a good contrast to the gooey dough inside.  If the takoyaki is overcooked, the dough inside will be too tough, if it’s undercooked, it will be too runny.  It’s almost an art to create good takoyaki.  The basic way to serve takoyaki is to brush okonomiyaki sauce on top of all the balls, dust it with aonori (a type of finely ground green onion) and bonito flakes, and top with mayonnaise.  You can easily add grated daikon, mustard, or even cheese to the toppings.  Do beware that when you get fresh takoyaki, the balls may be cool on the outside, but inside, the doughy batter is still molten hot.  It’s rare that I don’t burn my entire mouth when eating takoyaki.  If you are extremely sensitive to eating hot foods, you can cut open a hole and cool it down before eating.

Watching people make takoyaki is special. It’s not easy to do at all.  Takoyaki is made using a half sphere pan, and two metal “needles” are used to turn the balls, and eventually create the ball.  It is very important that you don’t pierce the actual ball, and you have to know when to turn it.  If you turn it too early, it won’t form the shape of a ball, and it won’t be as crispy either.  It’s ultimately up to you, or the chef to decide the texture of the ball itself.  If you go to a restaurant or shop to eat takoyaki, almost all of them will have their own display where you can watch the experts making takoyaki.  It’s fun to watch and well worth the wait.  There are a few variations of takoyaki itself.  Instead of octopus, you can add ham and cheese, but this is a very rare case and usually done at homes where people don’t enjoy seafood or octopus.  Most of the variety comes from the crispiness of the ball itself and from the various toppings that are available.  It’s best to try to basic version before trying the other versions.

hOne of the best ways to eat takoyaki is to go to a festival.  There are various yatai shops in these areas.  A yatai shop is basically an outdoor food stall.  Typically, they have nothing more than a griddle where they make various foods.  The most common foods to eat are: okonomiyaki, yakisoba, takoyaki, yakitori, chocolate dipped bananas, and castella.  While the food is the main attraction, watching the cooks make all of the food is a lot of fun, and hearing them scream out inviting people to buy some food is an experience that has to be seen in person.  There are various other foods available at all festivals, but these foods are almost always available.  When entering a festival, the food can be overwhelming.  It’s difficult to know what to eat and what not to eat.  I usually skip the yakitori as it’s easier to buy it at an izakaya.  Desert is almost always skipped as I never have enough room left after eating everything.  Okonomiyaki is very popular, and so is takoyaki.  Yakisoba is delicious, but I prefer to skip it as I can buy it everywhere.   Ultimately, it’s your choice as to what you want to eat.

There are several foods at festivals that are common during certain seasons.  In the winter months, you can get amazake.  It’s a slightly fermented rice alcohol that tastes similar to yogurt.  It’s is served warm and it’s a wonderful way to warm up, but beware of the old man who is preparing it.  He might end up drinking half of the pot before you can get any for yourself.  😀  When spring time comes around, you will tend to see more doughy sweets.  Castella is more popular in the spring months and it often comes in various shapes, such as Doraemon and Hello Kitty.  The shapes themselves are fun to eat, but the taste can be a little bland.  Summer brings out the shaved ice treats.  In Japan, most yatai shops serve basic shaved ice with various flavours such as honeydew (melon).  If you go to a restaurant, they will add a green tea sauce and sweet red beans on top.  It’s a completely different take on shaved ice.  Autumn is the start of the oden season, but oden is also served all winter and in early spring during the cherry blossom season.  Oden is basically various vegetables and meats that are stewed together to create a broth.  It’s delicious, but do beware of the mustard that it’s served with.  It’s very spicy.  It’s similar to horse radish or wasabi.  If you want to try some of the more unique offerings, try out one of these as you may not see it the next time you visit.

Takoyaki is a great snack when you are shopping in Japan.  It’s a very common food these days and you’d probably regret not trying it if you didn’t.  Yatai is less of a food than an experience.  You can do both of these at the same time.  I’d recommend doing both and trying both at the same time if you can.  If there are no festivals when you visit, you can easily just buy takoyaki on its own and feel as if you were in a festival.

Takoyaki Videos:

Typical Takoyaki Shop:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G6KT-JGIwA

Gindaco:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLR59sOqy2s

Forming the balls:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk-WHC-uEBA&feature=related

Takoyaki & Yatai Information:

Takoyaki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takoyaki
Gindako: http://www.hotland.co.jp/english/wthas-tako.html
Yatai: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yatai_%28retail%29
Amazake: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazake
Castella: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castella
Kakigori: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kakig%C5%8Dri
Oden: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oden

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Tokyo (Azabu-Juban) May 19, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Azabu-Juban)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-8w

Azabu-Juban (Azabu) is not a place you would normally want to visit. It’s generally an upscale residential neighbourhood. It is an area that is immediately next to Roppongi that has many festivals and activities all year round. If you are a resident of Tokyo, Azabu is a very good place to visit during the day and enjoy a nice coffee and a little shopping. There are only a few main streets in Azabu, and they are lined with shops. In the middle is a small park where you can relax on most days. The far end of Azabu is actually Roppongi Hills, so walking from Azabu station to Roppongi station is a very nice way to spend a day. You are guaranteed to see many interesting things that are unique to Azabu. Azabu, as it’s next to Roppongi, is also a hub for foreign embassies, just like Roppongi and Hiroo.

The main reason I’m writing about Azabu is because of the Matsuri. Matsuri is literally translated into English as “festival”. Every year, in the heat of summer, Azabu is transformed for one weekend. It becomes an extremely busy place where people gather. The station is situated close to a highway and canal, and this is the best starting place if you visit the festival. This area traditionally has the most open space with many food stalls selling foreign foods. You can sample food from almost all over the world. There are very few places to actually eat, but if you don’t mind standing or sitting on the street, you won’t have any problems. There is also a nice set of fountains that make for good picture opportunities. One warning though, being the summer festival, you’ll have a tough time getting that perfect shot. You’ll have to do a hit and run. Another warning is to be patient. Often, each stall has a long line-up. The workers can barely keep up with the demand. Be patient and you’ll be able to eat a lot of different foods.

The main attraction has to be the regular festival stalls. If you have never been to a Japanese festival, this is the best one to see. You’ll see all of the regular foods and games that can be played. Starting with the food, there are plenty of places you can get good Japanese fare. The most popular food must be yakisoba. For 500-700 Yen, you can get a small box full of fried buckwheat noodles in a teriyaki sauce. If you call it teriyaki in Japan, people will probably look at you a little funny. They just call it sauce and it’s very easy to find, but it’s never labelled “teriyaki”. The other major food to eat is okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a traditional Osakan food. Some will call it a pancake, and others a pizza. I generally choose a pizza. The basic okonomiyaki is cabbage and batter with “sauce”, Japanese mayonnaise, and dried green onions on top. Often they add eggs, bacon, and anything else they can add. Okonomiyaki is literally translated into “as you like it”, so there isn’t any set recipe. You will find that kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, and the Nara area) food is very popular at any festival.

Takoyaki is the other essential food. This is similar to okonomiyaki, but without the cabbage, and instead of a pizza, it’s a ball. Be warned, takoyaki is EXTREMELY hot. While the outer crust of the ball is cool, the inside is still very hot. Tako is octopus in Japanese, and you’ll always find a large piece of octopus in the middle. Some places outside Japan make takoyaki, but they don’t always put a big piece of octopus in the middle. It makes a BIG difference. Other than that, you can get grilled fish and squid, and anything else that can be cooked on an open fire or flat grill. For desert, you usually have only two choices. Chocolate dipped bananas or kakikori (Japanese style snow cone). If you are thirsty, you can buy soft drinks, or beer. Yes, they have beer. Unlike Canada and America, you can actually drink in public. The price of beer is a little expensive, but you can get any brand you wish. If you need to save money, there are a few convenience stores in Azabu and beer is regular price.

Games are also part of the festival. Generally, the most famous game is a fishing game. You don’t get a fishing rod, or even a fishing line. You get a kind of “net” that is made of rice paper. It looks like a paddle, and it’s very fragile. After one or two tries, it will break and you have to stop. You generally pay for a few paddles and you try to scoop small goldfish into a bowl. Whatever you catch, you can keep. The festival also sells a few goods that are popular as souvenirs. If you aren’t interested in the games, the park is an excellent place to visit. At night, they start the bon odori. This is a traditional Japanese folk dance. They usually have a big taiko drum that is played by various people while music is played over a speaker system. People form a big circle and start dancing. It looks very much like line dancing, but in a large circle, and each dance tells a story. Don’t worry if you don’t know the moves. You can easily learn them by watching them. If you don’t know, one of the older ladies are usually happy to teach you. Many Japanese people don’t even know some of the dances, so don’t be afraid.

If you are in Tokyo during the Azabu-juban Matsuri, I highly recommend that you go to this festival. It’s probably one of the best in Tokyo. There are other festivals held throughout the summer and into late September, but this is one of the biggest. You’ll be able to see all of the other smaller festivals in one place. Make sure you are prepared for the heat, and buy lots of beer.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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