Japanese Snacks (II): Taiyaki

Taiyaki is one of the most popular Japanese street foods and can be found almost everywhere in Japan, especially in Tokyo. It is common to see stalls selling taiyaki at any Matsuri (festivals) in winter when everyone craves a sweet and warm treat to take the chill off. Though especially popular in winter, taiyaki can be eaten year round.

What is Taiyaki?


There is no fish in taiyaki, though it literally means “baked sea bream.” The name comes from the fish-shaped mold in which the snack is baked. Taiyaki is made with waffle batter. The batter is poured into fish-shaped molds on each side and the filling is placed on one side. After closing the mold, bake on both sides until golden brown. Nowadays, you can enjoy a taiyaki inside your home. Quick-frozen instant taiyaki is available at supermarkets and convenience stores, and can be heated up in the microwave and enjoyed any time.

Taiyaki is so popular in Japan that it has become a personality test. The Japanese people believe that the way one eats taiyaki can reveal one's personality. Depending on where one takes the first bite, people can be divided into six categories:

People who start from the head are optimists.

People who eat from the tail are romantics.

People who eat from the fins are sensitive.

People who eat one from the belly are easygoing.

People who break taiyaki and bite the head first are reliable and energetic.

People who break taiyaki and eat it from the tail are calm and idealistic.

History of Taiyaki


Taiyaki is adapted from Imagawayaki, a wagashi (traditional Japanese dessert). Imagawayaki is a round waffle-like snack made of a thick batter, filled with anko (sweet red bean paste), and baked in an iron pan mold. It first appeared in the Kanda district of Tokyo during the Anei years of the Edo period (1772-1781). They quickly became a popular food throughout Japan. Good times don’t last long. By the early 1900s, vendors were looking for new ways to revitalize taiyaki. One idea was to make Imagawayaki in different animal shapes to attract more customers.  

It is not until 1909 that these attempts took effort. In 1909, a seller decided to make Imagawayaki in the shape of a red sea bream. Unlike the rabbit and turtle Imagawayaki, the sea-bream-shaped pancake immediately became popular. Soon it became a new snack, known as taiyaki.

In Japan, sea bream was known as the "king of fish." It was an ingredient so expensive that only the upper class could afford it. Making Imagawayaki in the shape of a rare sea bream allowed people to feel like they could enjoy a little bit of luxury. Another reason is that the red sea bream has long been associated with good luck. Tai (sea bream) is a word that rhymes with the Japanese word medetai, which in Japanese means happy or auspicious. Therefore, eating sea bream is meant to bring good luck.

Types of Taiyaki


The most classic filling for taiyaki is anko, but there are also a variety of other fillings. Japanese-style fillings include matcha and chestnut paste. Some western-style fillings are also popular, such as chocolate, caramel cream, and custard cream. Moreover, the flavor of taiyaki is not limited to sweet. There are also savory fillings, such as tuna, egg, cheese, ham, curry, cabbage, and so on. Some fillings are season-limited, such as cherry blossom flavor in spring and sweet potato flavor in autumn.

In addition to the fillings, the batter also comes in a variety of flavors. The traditional golden-brown color of the batter comes from the egg yolk, without which the taiyaki turns white and is called Shiro taiyaki (white taiyaki). There are also pink sakura batter, matcha (green tea) batter, and chocolate batter.

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