I remember the first time I’d ever eaten a Takoyaki. My friend and I walked through a Pasar Malam in Singapore – makeshift night markets that are held nomadically in the heartlands of the country – and she disappeared for a moment, coming back with a box of them: mayonnaise-covered balls made from a creamy batter, and filled with bacon and cheese. But I didn’t know that this was a crazy delicious Japanese street snack then.
All I heard were the words “Bacon and Cheese”.
Traditionally filled with octopus pieces – then called Takopachi instead – these balls are basically made with a base of wheat flour batter in semi-spherical cast iron pans, looking like the savoury edgy ancestors of the cake pop. Today, they are filled with such a variety of ingredients and are so omnipresent that they even have them dispensed from vending machines in Japan!
Commonly filled with seafood like prawn and crab, Tamayaki in Dixon St (Haymarket) have spiced up the menu with super cool flavours like Satay Chicken, and Eel (Unagi).
But first, wanna know how they’re made?
First the pan gets filled with batter, and then the chosen fillings.
Then it gets expertly flipped. Most places use two thin metal skewers to flip and roll these balls into spherical perfection, but no, Tamayaki chooses to use only one, with a Luke Skywalker-wielding-a-light-saber-post-Vader type efficiency.
These balls are then carefully cooked to be crispy on the outside while still creamy on the inside, and popped into little trays, before being generously doused in mayo-based sauces. The Unagi gets mayo and barbecue, and the Satay Chicken gets a specially formulated spicy satay sauce. Very nice.
Watch out for that first bite! Cause, you know, steaming hot insides and all. The Unagi is as delicious as expected, filled with tender eel flesh and smothered in savoury sauce and dried bonito flakes that curl and wave with the heat off the balls. But the Satay Chicken was a surprise favourite. Chicken thigh pieces stand up to being cooked twice very well, and the spicy tangy satay sauce tastes of all the spices that come with authentic satay flavours, and not just a peanut-heavy mess that I see so often. Also available in beef, Tamayaki is really providing a new twist to old favourites.
And if you’re getting thirsty from all the creamy mayo, Tamayaki also has an extensive drink menu. I tried the very summery Mango Juice Ball – filled with little liquid-filled spheres of mango syrup that burst into your mouth luxuriously the way salmon roe does.
The takoyaki has really come a long way since I first sampled it as a teenager in that bustling, humid, market, and Tamayaki seeks to push the boundaries, and continue on in the Japanese mixture of innovation and traditional techniques. The balls are made fresh to order, resulting in a little bit of a wait for the order to be ready – especially if you’re in a rush. But really, I’ve never been at a tamayaki joint where there wasn’t a wait, so…
Japanese comfort street food for the win!