What is Taiyaki?
We're sure you've seen the ubiquitous fish-shaped cake all over social media. Taiyaki is a snack sold in the shape of red sea bream fish, also known as tai. These fish are often eaten in celebration of large events. The standard taiyaki filling is red bean paste, though many variations now range from traditional flavors to newer ones like strawberry and chocolate.
This sweet snack is related to imagawayaki, another sweet treat with the same ingredients but a circular shape. The creator of taiyaki initially owned an imagawayaki store. Unfortunately, his original store was not successful. This man, Seijiro Kanbei, created imagawayaki in the shape of tai fish and business took off. These fish-shaped snacks originated in Tokyo, Japan, and continue to be sold to people worldwide.
These popular Japanese snacks are so beloved that Kanbei’s store is still open and selling this delicious treat. As the years have progressed, savory flavors are also available. You may luck out and find a pizza-flavored taiyaki or maybe even one filled with corn or cheese. This Japanese street food is cute, easy to eat, and of course delicious. Learn more about this unique Japanese snack with our guide to taiyaki!
What Does Taiyaki Taste Like?
This Japanese street food has varying tastes depending on if you purchase a sweet or savory option.
First there was imagawayaki, an Edo period (1603 to 1868) Japanese dessert and snack sold from food stalls. An imagawayaki was a round cake typically filled with sweet red bean paste, or anko. Other sweet options range from chocolatey to a sweet matcha taste. You can find many options, including an array of fruit and vegetable fillings. The exterior of these Japanese cakes has a flavor between pancakes and ice cream cones with a crunchy exterior and soft interior.
For the savory cakes, expect a slightly sweet taste in combination with the flavors of the fillings. As mentioned above, savory fillings range from pizza to cheese, corn, or even sausage. The taste for these Japanese snacks varies much more than the sweet variety.
Why Is Taiyaki a Fish?
There is no clear answer on why Seijiro Kanbei made these Japanese sweets in the shape of a fish. However, perhaps he was hoping for some good luck with his shop, as the tai fish symbolizes. Whatever the reason, the cute fish shape helped increase the popularity of this famous Japanese snack.
How Taiyaki Are Made
These delightful fish-shaped snacks, aka some of the best Japanese snacks, are made from a thin batter (similar to waffle batter). This batter serves as the exterior shell to a soft filling. Then, the batter is poured into a taiyaki-ki, a hollow metal iron with two plates on each side. These plates have the impression of tai fish (similar to a waffle maker). Once the batter is poured, the filling is added, and the device is shut. Then, these traditional treats are put over an open flame to cook through and provide the crispy crust that taiyaki offers.
There are some street vendors that deep fry taiyaki as well. This cooking method creates a softer texture on the inside, and a crunchier outside for the ultimate Tokyo treat.
Though the traditional sweet red bean paste filling is still a popular choice, modern interpretations of taiyaki have led to new fillings and flavors. Custard cream, chocolate, and sweet potato are just some of the many options. More savory fillings—like cheese, gyōza (dumpling) filling and sausage—are also available at some locations.
Another modern interpretation of taiyaki is puku puku tai, a crisp, fish-shaped snack filled with mousse. The sweet mousse filling comes in a variety of flavors, like caramel, chocolate, strawberry and more.
Where To Find Taiyaki
Today, taiyaki are still popular in Tokyo as well as across Japan and around the globe. They're sold at food stands during festivals or matsuri in Japan, but they can also be found frozen in certain supermarkets. You can always try making them yourself with a taiyaki mold, slightly thinned pancake/waffle batter, and your preferred sweet filling. If you love taiyaki, you'll also love Bokksu, the ultimate Bokksu Japanese snack box subscription. Bokksu delivers authentic treats from Japan to your door every month, including some of the best taiyaki flavors you can find. Plus, you'll get a free tea pairing and a booklet with every box to learn more about the culture and history of each snack.
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