One cannot judge a food simply by its name alone. Taiyaki, for example, translates to “grilled red sea bream.” But after purchasing one, you will quickly notice the lack of seafood. It certainly looks like a fish, but that is where the similarities end. Its consistency hovers between a pancake and a waffle, and it’s filled with a sweet paste, traditionally anko, or red bean paste. The whole experience raises one question: Why shape a pancake like a fish?
Taiyaki originated during the Meiji period. Its predecessor was a similar, cylinder-shaped Japanese snack called imagawayaki. For a reason that remains a mystery, a vendor decided to make an imagawayaki in the shape of a tai, or red sea bream. Perhaps he imitated the fish because it was a rare and expensive delicacy at the time. Or maybe it was because the tai is often considered a symbol of happiness.
Regardless of its origins, taiyaki became a festival and street food favorite across Japan. Fillings have expanded to include custard, chocolate, and sweet potato, as well as savory offerings such as cheese or sausage. Some establishments have even started to use the fishy cakes as ice cream cones.
Where to Try It
Taiyaki Wakaba1 Chome-10 Wakaba, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 160-0011, Japan
One of the oldest and most popular taiyaki stands.
Naniwaya Souhonten (浪花家総本店）1-8-14 Azabujuban Minatoku, Tokyo, Japan
Be prepared for long lines at this stand. The wait is typically 20 to 30 minutes.