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The Ultimate Guide to Taiyaki, The Popular Fish Shaped Cake From Japan

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The word Taiyaki (鯛焼き) is a combination of tai and yaki. Tai refers to a type of fish, most commonly known as a sea bream, that often represents good fortune in Japanese culture. This is because the sound “tai” is also in the Japanese word “medetai,” which translates as joyous or auspicious. Yaki simply means to grill or cook over a fire. 

Don’t be deceived, though! This is NOT a freshly grilled seafood dish, but a traditional pastry (shaped like a fish) that can be found throughout Japan. Traditionally taiyaki are baked fresh, with a soft pancake texture and sweet red bean filling.  This sweet treat dates back as far as the Meiji period and is closely related to another Japanese snack called imagawayaki, which is circular in shape and is also filled with azuki beans. 

Taiyaki, a Japanese fish shaped cake is filled with sweet red bean paste

History of Taiyaki

Imagawayaki has been around since the Edo period, and has different counterparts throughout the nation such as Obanyaki (Kansai) and the Kaitenyaki (Kyuushu). A century after, Seijiro Kanbei, an Osaka native, Tokyo-based businessman created a fish shaped mold to help his product stand out. This became the first taiyaki we now know and love. His shop, Naniwaya Sohonten, still stands to this day in Azabujuban, Tokyo. 

 Since then, you’ll find the beloved Japanese fish shaped cake served warm and fresh during New Year shrine visits and the summer festivals alike. It can easily be enjoyed during the colder months, warming  your hands on a winter night – but it also makes a great snack for a long summer adventure due its compact size and longevity.  

A magikarp shaped Taiyaki in Akihabara

Types of Taiyaki

Taiyaki has evolved in different ways to appeal to the modern consumer. Now, you can find them in all different shapes, sizes and flavors. One of the most memorable versions you’ll find is in the shape of Magikarp, or (Koiking in Japanese) with sweet, creamy custard filling inside. Chocolate, vanilla bean, purple potato, matcha cream and coffee bean paste are just some of the sweet fillings you can see and read about. 

In the summer, taiyaki is often filled with soft serve ice cream or a cold and refreshing treat. Some shops also serve savory options such as pork bun fillings, tomato-based fillings, sausages, and a personal favorite – cream cheese and ham!

With so many options to choose from, you will definitely find a flavor combination out there that speaks to your heart.

A taiyaki pan is filled with batter and sweet red bean paste before the mold is closed and flipped over

How is Taiyaki Made?

 Taiyaki is made under medium low heat to assure the whole pastry is golden brown and crisp and the filling is sufficiently warm. Traditional taiyaki recipes are very similar to waffle batter. Recently, though, taiyaki is most often made with cake flour or even tapioca flour (which makes for a very chewy cake similar to mochi). Using baking powder in the batter also helps ensure a light and fluffy interior with a crispy exterior. 

The batter is first poured into a taiyaki mold over hot flames. Then, most commonly, it’s filled with sweet azuki bean paste. The mold is closed and flipped over the flames a few times to ensure it’s been evenly cooked on both sides. Taiyaki comes in different sizes, but generally it fits the palm of your hand.

Notable Taiyaki Shops in Japan

Naniwaya Sohonten, Azabujuban

Naniwaya Sohonten in Azabujuban created Taiyaki

The store that is said to have created Taiyaki. It was established during the Meiji period and has stood for a century and is loyally visited by tourists and local foodies throughout Tokyo. Naniwaya’s taiyaki’s key features are its thin and crispy wheat flour pastry and azuki beans from Tokachi, Hokkaido. Their special filling requires the azuki beans to be cooked in very low heat for eight hours to achieve the silky texture they’re famous for. 

Kurikoan Taiyaki Stand, Kichijoji/Akihabara/Yokohama

Kurikoan Taiyaki in Kichijoji and Akihabara is a famous street food spot in Tokyo, Japan

Kurikoan is the home of the magikarp shaped taiyaki with a creamy custard filling. They have even more unique shapes that are limited to different locations such as the train shaped taiyaki found in the Otsuka store. Kurikoan also offers seasonal Taiyaki fillings throughout the year, including azuki, chestnut, premium custard cream, purple yam, sweet potato, marron cream, strawberry and a lot of savory flavors as well!

Amane, Kichijoji

Amane Taiyaki in Kichijoji searves unique, cripsy Taiyaki cakes filled with warm sweet red bean paste

Amane’s taiyaki is distinctive due to its extra crunchy border around the edges. It produces another layer of texture you could savor and enjoy. It is slightly sweet with a hint of brown sugar in its batter. Their azuki paste is generous and has a delicious chunky texture.

Mamemono to Taiyaki, Kyoto 

Mamemono to Taiyaki is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike in Kyoto, Japan

Located in Kyoto's famous bamboo forest, Arashiyama, Mamemono prides itself in actively selecting and using local ingredients. Some of the fillings they offer include royal custard, an-butter (azuki and butter), and of course, the quintessential azuki bean paste. 

What does your Taiyaki say about you?

The next time you find yourself digging into a scrumptious taiyaki, stop to think about how exactly you’re eating it. Apparently, you can tell a person’s personality by the way they enjoy their taiyaki. If you eat the taiyaki head first, you are a passionate optimist who hates to lose with a mood that can change on the drop of a dime. Those who eat from the tail are cautious, fashionable and romantic, but can be rather insensitive. Those who eat from the fin are ones who want to be alone, but are actually very lonely. Those who eat from the stomach are open minded and kind, but clumsy. If you are the type to cut the taiyaki in half and eat from the head side, you are self driven, hard to influence, and have your own way of doing things. On the other hand, if you are the type to cut the taiyaki in half and eat it from the tail side, you are also strong willed, but cautious and serious.

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How do you enjoy your Taiyaki? Did the way you enjoy your taiyaki reflect your personality or was it a huge miss? What are your favorite Taiyaki flavors, shops that you want to let us know about? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts in the comment box below!

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