Suzhou Octoballs

Posted in Food and Drink, Travel Log (Asia) at 10:39 am by Benjamin Ross

I generally like to think of myself as pretty adventurous when it comes to food, as well as pretty well traveled when it comes to China.  Therefore it really isn’t too often that I come across a new Chinese snack which I have yet to encounter.  But today, while walking through Suzhou’s Guan Qian Jie (did I mention I finally busted out of Shanghai on Wednesday?), I came across a sign advertising 章鱼丸 (octopus balls)….

Before anybody gets the wrong idea, let me just clarify that the term “balls” refers to the round shape into which the octopus meat is molded.
Having previously lived in Fuzhou for several years, I had been exposed to my fair share of fish balls (their local specialty), as well as a decent amount of octopus meat, which occasionally makes its way into Fuzhou cuisine as well.  But this was to be my first time ever consuming an eight-armed mollusk in spherical format.  The final product came in this specially designed box which actually refers to the balls as “Japanese style.”
The balls were then topped with a sauce which had both the look and consistency of mucous.  With its sweet and somewhat tangy flavor, it was the perfect condiment for my fried octoballs, and tasted nothing like the snot it so very much resembled  The vendor referred to it as 萨拉将, the common Chinese word for “mayonnaise.”  Sprinkled on top of the “mayo” were dried fish shavings for extra flavor.
The final product was served with wooden skewers as utensils, and at 7 RMB for a box of 6, was rather pricey for Chinese street fare.  However, they were quite filling, and I would certainly recommend them to anyone who has a chance to try.


By the way, my consulting project is all wrapped up, and I will be backpacking around the Yangtze River Delta region for the next couple weeks, until I head back to Chicago on 3/19.

Also, special thanks to Ryan McLaughlin and his wife Maggie for putting me up in Suzhou (not to mention letting me use his MacBook to blog).  Be sure to check out Ryan’s various China-related sites sites Lost Laowai, haohaoreport, Dao by Design, and The Humanaught.


  1. Ryan China said,

    March 6, 2009 at 11:04 am

    2.5 years in Suzhou now and I’ve never tried these octoballs. Definitely look great though – wish I’d stayed downtown with ya a bit longer yesterday!

    This very well could be the first time I’ve ever posted a comment on a blog who’s blogger was in my living room. Bizarre. Absolute blast having you over though.

  2. Justin United States said,

    March 6, 2009 at 11:20 am

    “octopus balls,” aka たこ焼き (takoyaki) are actually a hugely popular Japanese booth-snack, especially at festivals, and are the local specialty of Osaka :)

  3. Rebekah China said,

    March 6, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Ah, the China blogger connection (Re: Ben and Ryan). I need to start a blog so I can have a free place to stay in Suzhou too 😉

  4. GAC United States said,

    March 6, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Hmm, while on Guanqianjie, or anywhere else in China, did you ever come accross some sort of fleshy thing (possibly meat, possibly organ, definitely not striated muscles) on a stick that was cut open and splayed out like a flower.

    A Chinese girl in Suzhou once asked me to share that with her, but she couldn’t tell me what it was (maybe she didn’t know the English word?). I’m actually not sure I want to know.

  5. Teya China said,

    March 6, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Those look like takoyaki. I have seen them in several places in Shanghai. Oustide my university and near Zhongshan Park are two places that come to mind.

  6. Brenda Yuen United States said,

    March 7, 2009 at 8:49 am

    I’ve had them in Hawaii, at a Japanese department store. They are interesting, but not my favorite way to eat octopus.

  7. Paul Golin United States said,

    April 6, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Hi Ben,

    I work with Levi Fishman who recommended I read your blog because my wife and I are about to take a quick trip (4 nights) to Shanghai. I’m really enjoying your writing, not just about China, so thank you. My wife is Japanese and like the previous commentors, I’ve long enjoyed takoyaki, although it seems like the sauce you got might have been different because in Japan it’s more of a brown sauce (which may be okonomiyaki sauce). But perhaps like you, or not, the very first time I was offered octopus balls I literally said, aloud, “I didn’t know octopus have balls.” And I meant it! Sad, really.


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