In my humble opinion, takoyaki is one of the greatest foods in the world. According to Wikipedia, it is a “ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan” and usually filled with octopus. I first fell in love with it while reading ろくでなしBLUES (translated in English as Rover Blues), possibly my favourite manga of all time.
I have tried many takoyaki places in Japan (Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo) and in my opinion the best place to have this delectable dish, by far, is Taco Tora, which has, as far as I know, three stores in Kyoto.
Back in the day (2002), I always visited the store in Kyoto’s Kamishichiken district, on Imadegawa, which was a long bike ride but well worth it whenever I am craving for a post-dinner snack. Last month, however, I tried out the Shichijo store for the first time because it’s closer to the hotel I was staying at near Kyoto Station.
The two stores, amazingly, look almost identical, from the layout down to the decor. I felt right at home. Here is the wall poster with the phone number, address (in Japanese) and opening hours. For those who cannot see the fine print, they are open from 5pm to midnight.
So what makes their takoyaki so good? See pictures below first.
They don’t look particularly special, but they are. At 600 yen for 8 balls, that’s neither cheap nor expensive, but there are several things that do set the takoyaki from Taco Tora apart from other joints.
First of all, their takoyaki balls are huge. Twice as big as ones you will find at night market stalls in Taiwan and some of the stalls at Sydney’s Friday night Chinatown markets. Second, and most importantly, the outside is amazingly crispy. Incomparably crispy. So many takoyaki places, even in Osaka, where they are supposed to be famous, have outsides that are soft and soggy and not worthy of your money. Taco Tora is the real deal. Super crunchy on the outside, moist and flavoursome on the inside. The tako is not just some little piece you can barely get your teeth around — they are huge and chewy.
The sauce is also surprisingly good, even though it is plain. Most places top off takoyaki balls with some type of dark okonomiyaki-style sauce (which is similar to Worcestershire) and mayo, but Taco Tora just has the dark sauce without the mayo. Now I love mayo, but it is perfectly fine without it here. Their sauce just seems tangier. The dried bonito flakes are of course the cherry on top.
Just writing about this makes me hungry. Do yourself a favour and try it out if you are ever in Kyoto. The unfortunate thing is that none of the stores are particularly close to train or subway stations (though I believe there may be bus stops nearby). You might just have to catch a cab.
Shichijo store (open till midnight): 20-18, Nishikyogoku, Daimon town , Ukyo-ku, Kyoto (京都府京都市右京区西京極大門町20-18)
Main store (open till 2am): Intersection of Kitaooji and Takano, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto (京都府京都市左京区北大路高野交差点上ル西側)
Kamishichiken store (open till 1am): Imadegawadori Nanahonmatsu Nishi Iru Kamigyō-Ku, Kyoto (京都府京都市上京区今出川通七本松西入真盛町726-40)