Are you familiar with the Japanese fish-shaped dessert known as Taiyaki? The concept of fish-shaped dessert may seem a little strange, but it is a popular snack food, and is even considered as a wagashi, or traditional dessert in Japan. Maybe you’re wondering, why is taiyaki fish shaped? Don’t worry, we'll cover that and a lot more in this post so that you can become an expert about these popular Japanese treats!
What is Taiyaki?
As you already know, Taiyaki is a popular Japanese fish-shaped confection.The fish shape is meant to resemble a sea bream fish, or 鯛 in Japanese. Taiyaki, commonly written as たい焼き or sometimes as 鯛焼き literally translates to baked sea bream. While there are actually many baked sweets in Japan made from flour-based batter and filled with sweet red bean paste, taiyaki is unique because of its fish-shaped appearance. The texture of this treat also resembles a waffle as it is crispy and light on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
Taiyaki is traditionally filled with red bean paste, but other fillings such as custard, sweet potato, white bean paste, and other variations can be found easily. You can even find savory versions that include cheese or curry fillings in some shops!
These fluffy fish-shaped waffles must be made in a special fish-shaped mold in order to acquire the correct shape. When you buy taiyaki from a vendor, they will usually use special grill plates with multiple fish-shaped molds that can make many taiyaki at one time.
In Japan, you can find taiyaki being sold basically anywhere. There are specialized shops selling taiyaki both in the urban and rural areas, and they are often made and sold in stalls during festivals. You can even sometimes find taiyaki being sold in convenience stores.
If you can’t make a trip to Japan right now, you can find frozen taiyaki sold in Asian supermarkets or can even try making it at home. If you want to make taiyaki at home, check out our recipe here.
Another fun fact about taiyaki is that Japanese often debate on if it’s best to eat taiyaki from the head or tail end first! There’s even more fun to discover with these yummy treats too.
History of Taiyaki
The history of taiyaki dates back to the 1900s when a store in Tokyo tried to sell Imagawa-yaki (a round-shaped dessert with a sweet red bean filling) without success. The owner decided to create baked sweets in different shapes, and after some trial and error, he discovered taiyaki.
The shape of taiyaki also has an important meaning in Japanese culture. Sea bream, which is “Tai” in Japanese, is considered to be a good-luck charm, as the Japanese word "Medetai" (meaning "good luck"). As the meaning implies, in the olden days, real sea bream was very expensive and could not be easily consumed by the general public. Taiyaki became popular as a way to take advantage of the good luck that “tai” or sea bream portrays.
Since taiyaki’s shape is quite unique, many songs about taiyaki have been created, including the 1975 children's song "Oyoge Taiyaki-kun," which was a hit with a wide range of ages.
Variations of Taiyaki
Taiyaki, while of course a popular snack in Japan, has also become popular overseas in recent years. So much in fact that new variations and spinoffs of taiyaki have also become popular.
Taiyaki Ice cream
Taiyaki Ice Cream is probably one of the most popular spin offs of Taiyaki. Simply put, the inner shell of the taiyaki is filled with flavored milky soft cream and topped with various toppings. This version of taiyaki first became popular in the United States, specifically New York. While versions of Taiyaki Ice Cream exist in Japan, they are not as trendy or colorful looking as the ones sold in the states.
Commonly known as White Mochi Taiyaki or simply White Taiyaki, this is a newer version of Taiyaki that became popular in the early 2010s. The taiyaki dough is much softer, and has a chewier texture compared to traditional taiyaki. This is because white taiyaki is made with a mochi-like dough. There are specialty stores in Japan that sell white taiyaki, and sometimes convenience stores even carry them too. While the filling options will depend on which shop you purchase from, custard cream seems to be the most standard filling.
Croissant Taiyaki is a hybrid between, you guessed it, a croissant and taiyaki. If you’ve heard of a cronut before, croissant taiyaki is basically Japan’s version of that. Instead of using the waffle-like batter that traditional taiyaki uses, a more croissant-like dough, similar to puff pastry is used. Because of the shape of this dough, the end product of croissant taiyaki comes out rectangular in shape, with an imprint of the fish highlighted in the middle. When you bite into a croissant taiyaki, you will also notice that the dough is sprinkled with sugar crystals, to provide an extra layer of sweetness and crunch. Depending on the croissant taiyaki vendor, traditional fillings like red bean to custard, or seasonal spin offs like strawberry or matcha cream are often sold.
Pukupuku Puffed Taiyaki Snack
If you can’t make it to a taiyaki specialty shop to score this sweet treat, there are also puffed taiyaki snacks available. These puffed taiyaki have an airy, wafer-like taiyaki shell, and are filled with a perforated chocolate filling. They have quite a unique texture! In fact, at Japanese Taste, we have both chocolate and strawberry versions of these snacks available. These snacks are a perfect way to enjoy the essence of taiyaki on the go.