Battleyaki #1: Vivi, Oh! Taisho, & Otafuku

On Saturday I finally participated in a long-awaited food challenge: Battleyaki! In honor of a Birthday Royale, a group of us set out to pit takoyaki joint vs. takoyaki joint and find the best octopus balls in NYC.

For those of you who don't know the joys of takoyaki, it's a ball of savory dough containing a large chunk of octopus (or a few smaller pieces) and a few other flavorings, like pickled ginger and green onion. Cooked in a specially-designed takoyaki pan, the balls of goodness are usually topped or served with okonomiyaki (similar to a sweet/mild barbecue sauce), mayonnaise, and bonito flakes. Tako (octopus) yaki (fried or grilled) originated in Osaka, Japan, and it is one of my life goals to go on a serious takoyaki bender there...

We began the Battleyaki in Chinatown at Vivi Bubble Tea (49 Bayard Street). A to-go bubble tea joint, takoyaki is among one of the few savory snacks Vivi offers. Some were surprised that they were kind of sweet (I wasn't getting that so much), and we were worried about the amount of octopus (the first taster ended up with an octopus-free ball!), but both of mine were chock-full of multi-legged sea creature goodness. The balls themselves were nicely crispy on the outside, too. At a dollar less per six than the other places we tried, we all ended up pleasantly surprised.

Next up was Oh! Taisho (9 St. Mark's Place), one of the multitude of Asian joints that has sprung up where all of the tattoo parlors and bong shops used to be. Specializing in yakitori, takoyaki is on the appetizer menu (as it is at its sister shop at 5 St. Mark's, Yakitori Taisho). Oh! Taisho served the takoyaki differently: Okonomiyaki and benito on the top, mayo and ginger on the side. While the other dishes we ordered there were wonderful, the takoyaki left something to be desired: not very flavorful, not much octopus, and kind of soggy.

Finally, we headed around the corner to Otafuku (236 E. 9th Street), which actually seems to be part of a larger company? I've had many takoyaki at this little take-out place, and once again, they did not disappoint. Really rich and complex with a huge chunk of octopus in each ball, we were all happy--as per the usual there.

And the winner of Battleyaki #1? ...*drumroll*... It was kind of a tie! We all love Otafuku and think it's wonderfully tasty, consistent, and satisfying, but we were really surprised by Vivi. While many weren't sure about the sweetness, we were all really impressed by the texture.

But really, we couldn't come to a definitive answer anyway, since we only made it to three of the five places on Saturday's list, which didn't even include all of NYC's takoyaki purveyors. So, we're already working on Battleyaki #2!

And to tide us over, here's a video of one of our favorite takoyaki bonuses: Bonito in motion!


sj said...

So why exactly do the bonito flakes make like sea anemones when they are on top of takoyaki? Very festive!

Karissa Krenz said...

I'm guessing it has something to do with the heat rising from the takoyaki balls--either the warming of the bonito or the heat rising?

It's a wonderful, wonderful thing!