Taiyaki - Gastro Obscura
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Taiyaki

This pancake pays tribute to one of Japan's favorite fish.

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.

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