Osaka is the kind of town that Anthony Bourdain, the host of the TV show No reservations would love to visit. It has fantastic street food, an in your face approach to humor typified by manzai and a way of life known as kuidore, which literally means eat yourself to ruin.
Situated in the kitchen of Kansai with access to the freshest ingredients by land and sea, the people here will go to great lengths for the best ingredients and flavors, without regard to anything else. If Bourdain was in Osaka today, chances he would drop in to Takonotetsu, a unpretentious diner filled with locals eating their waistlines to ruin with Osaka’s equivalent of Hamburgers or Hot Dogs, being Takoyaki, or what the owner calls pizza balls full of flour, octopus, and everything except the kitchen sink, while being washed down with mouthfuls of your favorite beer or something stronger.
What’s more, you can cook your own Takoyaki here. Just like a pub in Australia where you barbeque your own steak, having a hot plate on your table to cook your own dinner is part of the fun. Like any cooking show or class worth its yen, they have chopped up all the ingredients for you, leaving you with the easy and exciting bits of cooking.
The key to making excellent Takoyaki is to heat the pan until it is smoking hot, preferably with a gas cooker. There is a special brush which you use to coat the pan with just enough oil so the batter won’t stick. You then drop in your ingredients, like sliced octopus, green onions or cheese, hence its resemblance to pizza balls. Turn the cooker down to medium heat, and then add the batter, made with eggs, soy sauce, flour, salt and Japanese dashi broth, to the mix. The next part looks tricky, but you will get the hang of it with practice. Once the bottom part is grilled, use the picks to turn the takoyaki, keeping it crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Once you are done, place the Takoyaki on your plate and layer it with the special Worcestershire style sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, and then dress it with aonori dried shredded seaweed and katsuobushi, dried bonito fish flakes.
Takonotetsu was founded in 1979 and like some pizzerias, it has some of the more unusual toppings on the market, such as Tropicana (corn, cheese and pineapple), curry as well as spinach, prawns and herbs. I had the Tropicana and the standard octopus takoyaki. I have to admit that I am a traditionalist here. Despite the haphazard feel of some of the topping choices, the dashi used in the batter had years of thought behind it. Using the best kombu kelp, dried bonito fish flakes and light soy sauce flavored with amazake (a kind of sweet rice wine), it is the basis of the every takoyaki. With a name that means “put your heart and soul in takoyaki”, Takonotetsu is a worthy heir to the kuidore spirit in Osaka.