At a guess, Osaka’s most photographed stretch is Dotonbori: a wide alley stacked with a rainbow of neon signs advertising everything from karaoke and pachinko to ramen and barbecue. Tourists whisk up and down the Dotonbori-gawa canal on narrow boats. Locals swig cans of Asahi on the street. Everybody shoves past each other to grab greasy, hot bags of Osaka’s finest takoyaki.
Dotonbori is also Osaka’s tastiest two kilometres, lined on all sides with street food stalls. The sellers are flipping okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake, usually filled with pork or prawns; and prodding signature Osakan snack takoyaki – battered golden balls filled with scraps of octopus and vegetables – with toothpicks.
Neither dish looks particularly appetising at first glance (and honestly, okonomiyaki wasn’t particularly to my taste). Both usually come smeared with a slurpy concoction of ginger, green onion, lashings of mayonnaise and what tastes like Worcestershire sauce. Fortunately, appearance hasn’t stopped takoyaki from becoming Osaka’s best-loved snack.
Takoyaki fans can thank an Osakan street seller called Tomekichi Endo, who invented the dish in 1935. That’s invented in the loosest sense: rather, he likely refashioned takoyaki from rajioyaki, meatballs filled with beef; or akashiyaki, a small dumpling hailing from the city of Akashi in Hyogo prefecture.
Unlike many dishes that have lowly beginnings, takoyaki’s natural home is the still the street. With so many stalls on Dotonbori, the best advice, if your hunger levels can stand it, is to look for the biggest queue and join it. Warning: they’re served nuclear hot, so have a cold beer ready.
Osaka’s all-night convenience stores also do a roaring takoyaki trade, where the dish is better known to Japanese millennials as the perfect after-party snack. And for a more refined takoyaki experience, try the restaurants in the narrow alleyway next to Dotonbori’s Hozenji Temple.
Takoyaki has also ended up the star of a signature cocktail. The 40 Sky Bar & Lounge, at the new Conrad Osaka, has introduced the most Osakan wheeze yet: Takoyaki in the Sky, where a takoyaki ball comes rotisseried on top of a gin and blue curacao drink.