Thursday, August 09, 2007

Takoyaki: Octopus Dumplings

A very special post. Takoyaki was my first foodie adventure in Singapore. In fact, it happened within hours of landing there. I was exhausted (hadn't slept on the flight), mildly jetlagged, thoroughly disappointed with the student accommodation I had been alotted and, for good measure, bewildered, lonely, and generally miserable.

All of this had so far been tempered by the presence of Krishna, a dear friend from college and currently on the National University of Singapore (NUS) faculty. She had insisted on picking me up from the airport, taken me to my doss-house, joined me in bitching about my room, and then dropped me to the NUS main campus for my enrolment process. Now she too had left for her office. The crowd milling in front of the hall was simply enormous, and made me wonder if my turn would ever come that day. I felt alone like I never ever had before.

To my surprise, the enrolment was over in minutes. Research scholars had been alotted a queue to themselves. And it seems most of them hadn't arrived or something, for there was literally nobody in that queue. I strolled in, handed in my documents, signed a form or two, and was handed my student card and the key to my own locker in the Law School.

I was thrilled, elated! Not to mention relieved. I felt like celebrating. Moreover, my stomach had begun to growl its protest over the meagre airline breakfast of a few hours ago. The covered verandah outside the hall was lined with food stalls run by student volunteers. But they were boring, the usual burger-and-hotdog stuff sourced from large chains.

Finally I came across this counter selling Takoyaki. On enquiry, the chap at the counter told me it was a kind of stuffed dumpling, Japanese in origin. Possibly as a concession to the ethnically diverse crowd present, they offered three kinds of stuffing - chicken, prawn and octopus. Later I learnt Octopus was the traditional filling, and the other two were recent innovations.

At that time, of course, I didn't know all this. I felt I just had to try out the octopus, come what may. The counter guy tossed three dumplings into a styrofoam box, added a brownish sauce (later identified as Okonomiyaki sauce), a whitish sauce that looked like mayonnaise (mainly because it was), and a whole bunch of fish flakes. Subsequent reading told me this was the traditional way of serving Takoyaki. Little wonder, actually; the stall proudly sported framed testimonials and awards recognising the quality and authenticity of their servings.

For all this I paid S$2, incidentally my very first monetary transaction in the city. Turns out, even this was not exactly cheap by Singapore standards. But to my famished self, it was manna from heaven. The octopus meat was somewhat rubbery, as octopus generally is. Its flavour was strong, but with none of the subtlety of prawn and crab. But the sauces made it special. Them and the fish flakes. Tuna's always been a favourite of mine. But the smoking and drying processes add an altogether new dimension to it. So all in all, pretty good stuff!


ys said...

tell me, what part of octopus is cookable? no this is not a taunt, a genuine curiousity.

Abhik Majumdar said...

See, I'm no marine biologist, nor an expert when it comes to eating octopus. But I'd say the tentacles are a prime candidate for ingestion.