That’s not a spelling mistake – “tako” is Japanese for “octopus.” This week my friend Gabrielle trekked across the Pacific and down from Tokyo to share my island home. It struck me as the perfect occasion to claim an invitation from the friendly computer teacher here, Rena-san. Several weeks ago, she urged me to partake of a Japanese tradition: the “tako party.”
With curious anticipation, we accompanied my neighbor Shiho-san (our school nurse) across town to Rena-san’s tidy and warmly lit abode. A table decked with mysterious packages awaited us, like the ingredients for a magician’s potion.
Onions, mochi, kimchi, cheese, sausage, pickled ginger, and slices of a purple octopus tentacle nestled alongside a mysterious electric cooker. Rena-san brought out a non-stick grilling pan akin to my mother’s Cake Pop maker.
Then the magic began.
We poured in batter the consistency of pancake mix (but fish-flavored, they assured us). Each cup received an octopus morsel, then a companion freely selected from among the buffet.
Then the madness began.
To our astonshiment, the tako-sensei filled the cups and kept filling – pouring in batter until it overflowed.
Would we be dining on souffle, we wondered. Were we assembling a casserole?
Rena-san handed out thin wooden skewers – the wands that transformed a mess of bits and bobs into a feast. Plunging in her skewer, Rena-san produced … half a dumpling.
With a deft flick of the wrist, she upended the batter. The gooey side met the hot metal and began to sizzle. Crisp golden suns smiled at us from every cup as we all joined the fray.
Within minutes, we were serving ourselves homemade takoyaki. The dressing followed no less intricate a script: first the special sauce, then a drizzle of mayonnaise, then a sprinkle of ‘kaotsu’ (or Bonito flakes – which, my teachers were baffled to hear, translates to ‘kirei’ or ‘pretty’ from Spanish).
Itadakimasu! Let’s eat!
Our conversation rose and fell with our laughter as we mingled attempts at Japanese and English with Google translations and family photos. Rena-san showed us a delectable alternative to the mayonnaise: melt a pinch of shredded cheese in the still-warm grill and drop in a takoyaki. If you scooped at just the right angle and speed, your dumpling would emerge with a flawless cheesy shell.
We talked of cherry blossoms and baseball stars, ending with invitations to reunite on the Atlantic side sometime. Before we left, Rena-san pressed on us “omiyage” (loosely, souvenir candy) from her latest vacation to Universal Studios Japan: Minion-themed cupcakes decorated with daisies pink as the oncoming spring.