Takoyaki is everywhere. From department stores to street corners under the rail tracks, scores of little street stalls can be found dotted throughout Japan serving up little battered balls of diced octopus. Regional variations abound and for every stall out there, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was an equivalent number of takoyaki styles.
If you've arrived in the middle of one of Japan's humid summers, then takoyaki topped solely with green laver and ponzu sauce is an extremely refreshing delight. Nagano, one of the homes of Japanese winter, offers its takoyaki with hakusai cabbage and the steaming balls of batter, with flakes of bonito sizzling and dancing on top, go down well, heating your belly. Lovers of history may opt for a tray of akashiyaki, an original takoyaki style made purely of batter and octopus, which is a favourite in Kobe. Purists may even go for rajioyaki, the original inspiration for the dish, made with beef instead of octopus and much more heavily soy sauce-flavoured.
Cooked in moulded hotplates, takoyaki are usually served in packs of 6-10 and for around JPY300-1000, are as close to a perfect street food as you can get. Generally brushed with mayonnaise and a Worcestershire-style sauce, and sprinkled with green laver and dried bonito flakes, takoyaki originated in Osaka. Judging by a stroll down any Osakan street, they are certainly proud of it too.
There are many chain stores specialising in takoyaki, and while you won't be disappointed by them, there is something special about ordering yours from the local street stall.
No matter what style of takoyaki you choose, or where you buy it from, you're going to be hard pressed to not enjoy it. Surprisingly light and filling at the same time, the only danger with takoyaki is deciding whether you should order another tray or not. If you do order, don't be surprised to see a wry smile as the staff serves you up your second tray.