Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Got Octopus Balls?

Continuing reports of “The Single Guy and The City” as I blog about my vacation in New York.

When traveling, some of the best adventures are the ones that aren’t planned or researched months in advanced. One of the most fun dining experiences I had in New York wasn’t at a Michelin-starred restaurant or one blessed by Frank Bruni. It was one from a food stand.

I can’t say that I was smart enough to find this on my own. I was actually introduced to this by a fellow food blogger, The Eaten Path, who tweeted me about meeting up while I was in town.

On the night we met, I had a late afternoon interview where I was doing some eating. So I told EP (aka James) that I wanted to get together for a casual, light dinner. We met at Union Square and walked to the East Village and up to a tiny narrow shop with a Japanese banner out front.

Otafuku is a food stand that specializes in one dish known as takoyaki, which is a savory wheat-flour ball with chopped pieces of boiled octopus. I’d never had an octopus ball, so I was intrigued by the possibility. Otafuku also offers up yakisoba, which is a popular pan-fried noodle dish, and okonomiyaki, an unsweetened pancake.

When we ordered, I saw off to a distance the cast-iron mold used to cook the takoyaki. They looked like just half a ball in the mold, and I wasn’t sure how they eventually come out looking like a seafood meatball.

James and I ordered our food and I got the combo of takoyaki (6 pieces) and yakisoba ($9). We went outside and sat on the bench, waiting for our order.

Since the place is so small, it’s really eat on the go or take home. Since we were blessed with beautiful weather in New York, James and I enjoyed our dinner outside.

The takoyaki was an interesting eating experience. When I first took a bite (when it was still fresh and hot), I thought the takoyaki tasted mushy and a bit creamy. But as it cooled down, the mixture settled and added more of a firm texture. Then I could really notice the tender bits of octopus inside.

BTW, in the picture you’ll notice that my takoyaki balls were covered with a bunch of bonito flakes and a squirt of special sauce. The yakisoba was hearty and filling, but nothing to write home about.

As we ate, several people walked by checking out the stand and a few people who looked like regulars came in to order their dinners to take home. I told James the whole experience reminded me of the stories of these food stands set up along the rail tracks in Japan serving up food for people on the run. This is how I imagined Otafuku, next to a rail station along Osaka.

Walking through the East Village, it reminded me of how this particular area of all of Manhattan has such a cluster of ethnic restaurants and food to taste. That’s the great thing about New York. You can travel the world all within one subway stop.

Otafuku, 236 E. 9th St. (between 2nd and 3rd Ave.), New York. PH: 212.353.8503. Open daily.


foodhoe said...

Looks fantastic! I ate alot of that kind of food when I lived in Japan and keep running into references about takoyaki... this is getting torturous! Single guy, you certainly are eating well on your travels

saudade said...

Love takoyaki. Takoyaki and the bread shops are the first things I miss when I leave Japan.

Nijiya on Post in SF has great takoyaki in their takeout section, but it goes fast!

You never had takoyaki in Hawaii?

Single Guy Ben said...

Saudade, thanks for letting me know. Sometimes I don't learn of something until I travel and then I find out it's in my backyard! I think I might have seen takoyaki at Shirokiya in Honolulu but never tried it. But now I know what it is!

James said...

Thanks again for meeting up, Ben! It's always a pleasure to share octopus balls with a fellow eater :]

James said...

PS: The next time you're in town you have to head to Sweet Revenge in the west village for a truly amazing cupcake experience!

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks James again for turning me on to them! I have to check out Sweet Revenge the next time I'm in New York!

Jenster said...

Ben, don't feel bad -- I grew up in Honolulu and never had takoyaki until three years ago, when we visited family and saw them being cooked at Shirokiya. I swear that's the first time I had ever seen them there. Our whole family was excited to try them, as we had seen them on TV on a travel show from Japan. They were good but I would have preferred it without the thin sauce on top, which made them somewhat soggy.