Taiyaki, Japanese waffles 鯛焼き
Japanese fish-shaped cake
For the Japanese, this fish-shaped cake, commonly sold as street food, in the shape of tai (sea bream) traditionally filled with red bean paste evokes the festivals and memories of their childhood. Found everywhere, from specialized pastry shops and even in konbini!
What is a taiyaki?
Taiyaki is a small cake baked in a mold whose dough resembles that of pancakes. The basic recipe of taiyaki was inspired by imagawayaki, a recipe that dates back to the eighteenth century. It was a waffle dough filled with anko, the sweet red azuki bean paste. But while the Imagawayaki is round in shape, the taiyaki is shaped like a fish, hence the name " grilled sea bream ". It can vary in size but measures around 15cm, just the right size for a quick fill! It can be consumed at room temperature but much better hot, fresh from the grill. It costs around 100-300 yen ($.85/.75€ - $2.55/2.25€), depending on the stuffing and where it is sold but Taiyaki is mainly an affordable snack for all!
- Read also: Four amazing Japanese cakes
Why is taiyaki shaped like a fish?
It dates back to the Meiji era, to increase the sales of Imagawayaki, took different shapes for fun. Shapes of mussels, turtles, "kameyaki" (grilled turtle), and even a rabbit "usagiyaki". However, these variations did not increase consumption as expected.
The story goes that in 1909, in Tokyo, an Imagawayaki salesman named Seijiro Kanbei, came up with the idea of making these treats in the shape of a fish, more specifically sea bream, a very popular fish for the Japanese and whose name, tai, rhymes with "medetai" which means "merry, happy or celebrate". Tai is considered a luxury item, high-end seafood served on special occasions or celebrations. There is even the expression: “tai wa medetai”: “the sea bream is for celebrations”.
To the common people, Taiyaki brought a sense of luxury and good luck in a form of a cheap, affordable, and adorable snack adding to its popularity!
The simple taiyaki recipe
The dough of taiyaki is made from wheat flour, milk, eggs and sugar . Pour it into two parts of a fish-shaped mold, then fill one side with filling. Once the mold is closed, bake the cake on both sides until it turns golden brown.
Traditionally, taiyaki were only stuffed with anko. The emergence of Western pastries inspired manufacturers who, in the last century, began to vary the ingredients: custard, chocolate, green tea, and more recently, ice cream and cheese... And even sakura in the cherry blossom season!
The dough has also evolved in variations and is even made with a dough used for croissants. They are also filled with various ingredients such as anko, matcha green tea, or even chocolate. Chains such as, "Taiyaki Crescent", have even sprung up all over the place.
Where to eat taiyaki?
Taiyaki is almost, always sold during matsuri (traditional festivals) and attracts many customers. Young and old alike love its hot and crispy dough with a sweet filling that melts in your mouth. Taiyaki is arguably the most recognized Japanese snack for more than a century!
It is everywhere, found in supermarket grocery shelves or konbini. Taiyaki grill molds are readily available for sale so you can make your favorite taiyaki!
A personality test!
It is said, how you eat your taiyaki is important! The sides on which you start the taiyaki reveal your personality! Do you like to start with the head? This implies you’re an optimist but a bit aggressive. Tail first? This means you're a romantic but a bit naive. Or go for the gut? – Apparently, you're energetic, athletic, and friendly...
What is your preference?
Some places to eat a taiyaki?
For "classic" products:
- The must: Naniwaya.
This is the pastry shop where the taiyaki was born, in 1909, and more than 10 million sold!
Address: 1-8-14 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: Azabu-Juban station, (Namboku, Oedo lines), exit 5b
Address: outside the entrance to the Flags Building, 3-37-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Access: 3 min walk from the South exit of Shinjuku Odakyu Station
- Kagurazaka Kurikoan
A tea room where you can enjoy hot taiyaki (they go very well with green tea). Approximately 1000 yen ($8.75/8.50€).
Address: 1F PORTA Kagurazaka, Kagurazaka 2-6-1 Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Access: 1 min walk from exit B3 of Iidabashi subway station or 3 min from JR Iidabashi station
For the creative:
- Tai Perfect in Yokohama
You can taste dest taiyaki stuffed with fruit or ice cream.
Address: Yokohama World Porters 5F, 2-2-1 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi
Access: Minatomirai metro station (Minatomirai line)
They offer taiyaki with croissant dough.
Address: Aeon Nishi-Arai Store, 3 Chome-32-7 Umejima, Adachi, Tokyo
Access: Nishi-Arai station
- For a unique taste:
Here, you can taste the traditional garnish, anko, or… the pizza flavor!
Address: 3-9-15 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo Access: Sendagi Station (Chiyoda Line), Nippori Station