What is taiyaki? It’s fun, delicious & fish-shaped: recipe & more
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“Fish ice cream” isn’t something that’d normally sound appetizing. But trust me when I say it’s probably not what you’re envisioning and that it’s delicious!
For a general definition, taiyaki or 鯛焼き is a traditional Japanese fish-shaped cake that you can add fillings to. Or you can use a waffle ice cream cone instead.
If you’re trying to imagine it in your head, think of it as a fish-shaped waffle with a scrumptious filling, the perfect street food to have when you need a bit of sugar in your life!
Let’s get a little more into detail.
Tai means “sea bream” (a species of fish), and “yaki” means grilled/baked. Then you combine them, and there you have it: taiyaki.
Although it literally translates to baked sea bream, this dish does NOT contain fish; it’s a sweet dessert with a fish shape.
So if you hate fish, don’t worry; there are no fish flavors in this dish!
Its crispy exterior complements the softness inside, and then the filling hits your taste buds, and that my friend, will make you want to buy a one-way ticket to Tokyo.
The best taiyaki has a thin, crispy exterior and a thick, full interior. When you bite into it, some filling is supposed to drip out.
Since this cake is street food, you’re supposed to eat it with your hands, no utensils needed. It’s okay if you get a little messy; the taste is worth it!
The taiyaki is made using regular pancake or waffle batter. You pour the batter on the fish-shaped mold for each side.
Once the batter is on the mold, you add the filling before closing it. Allow the taiyaki to cook until it’s golden brown on each side, and there you have it!
You’ll find taiyaki being sold at many street vendor stalls and shopping malls all over Japan.
Did you know that taiyaki is actually the #1 sweet snack in Japan? It’s so popular because it’s an old dish with a strong cultural significance.
When I went to Japan, this snack was a must-try. I tried the pancake-looking version of it, the imagawayaki.
I started eating the face first. I felt like most of the filling was probably in the center, and I’m a big fan of red bean paste.
I was surprised that on my first bite, most of the filling came with it since most of the mixture was in the head. Lucky!
This fish ice cream is considered a “lucky” dish, but children and adults around the world love this sweet, flavorful dessert!
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Different fillings of taiyaki
The filling in the taiyaki can vary depending on the person’s taste. Most Japanese locals prefer to add red bean paste filling (also known as an or anko).
Red bean paste is known as the “traditional” filling for taiyaki. It’s made from sweet adzuki beans, and this mixture is sweet and sugary.
It’s made by mixing boiled red beans with sugar in a saucepan until the sugar melts, and it forms a shiny paste.
Custard is another popular filling that isn’t vegan. It’s a sweet pastry yellow cream made with eggs, milk, or cream, and flour.
In taiyaki, it’s a thicker vanilla-flavored cream, an excellent substitute for red bean paste.
Some people prefer to add Nutella (for a more Americanized or Western version of this delicious treat). Nutella doesn’t require any special preparation.
You just put it in the fish as a filling, and it’ll melt into gooey goodness.
Did you know that most taiyaki is sweet? It was created as a “dessert”, so the sweet version is the most popular.
But there are other fillings like cheese, cream cheese, or sweet potato. Some people add some sort of meat, like sausage or ground beef.
Then we have people who sell it with okonomiyaki or gyoza filling. However, if you want to stick with the classic version, use red bean paste.
(Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients in a wheat-flour-based batter.
The name is derived from the word “okonomi”, meaning “how you like” or “what you like,” and yaki meaning “cooked” (usually fried).
There are many tasty fillings for taiyaki. Here are some of the most common:
- Red bean paste
- Cream cheese
- White chocolate
- Salad, ham, egg, and cheese (sandwich taiyaki)
- Whipped cream
- Pizza ingredients
- Mochi (a ball of sweet rice dough)
History of taiyaki
It’s believed that it all started in Tokyo during the Meiji era. The original fish ice cream was actually a round-shaped stuffed pancake that the Japanese called “imagawayaki”.
The Meiji-era was between 1868-1912, and in this era, the tai (a fish called sea bream in English) was considered a delicacy and was eaten for special celebrations mostly. It was used for praying for good luck.
The ending sound of the word “medetai” (used by Japanese when in celebration) sounds like the pronunciation for the sea bream fish, tai.
“Medetai” means auspicious, prosperous, or happy. So people decided to eat tai and tai-related cuisine during celebrations and important ceremonies.
The tai is now associated with good luck and good intention, so it’s become a beloved snack for locals.
Another tradition that relates to the tai is Japanese locals hanging a picture of a tai at the entrance of their homes or shrines. They do this because tai is a token of luck.
Over time, the snack was changed from its circular shape to the sea bream-shaped mold, and that’s how it became popular. It’s been a massive success since the 19th century.
There are many stories about which shop started the trend. However, I heard it was a store in the Azuba district of Tokyo that made this dish well-known.
Apparently, in 1909, this was a pastry store that sold the traditional imagawayaki (round-shaped) pastry.
They just weren’t selling enough, and the products weren’t that beloved. So they decided to run an experiment by creating the batter in different animal shapes.
They first tried making the cakes in a turtle shape, but it didn’t sell any better than the original round cakes.
It’s when they started making them in the fish (tai) shape that business began to boom!
The taiyaki shape
What is “tai”?
Taiyaki imitates the shape of the Japanese red sea bream, which is called tai. The red-tinted tai is also known as madai.
You can see them mostly in springtime throughout the waters of Japan. Its color is similar to the cherry blossoms or sakura, a light pinkish hue.
The actual reason why the taiyaki is shaped like a fish isn’t precisely known. Perhaps they wanted to have a symbolically lucky dessert.
The sea bream is a popular fish, a symbol of good fortune, served during New Year celebrations and special events such as weddings, anniversaries, etc.
Why is the tai lucky?
In Japanese culture, they have 7 Gods of Fortune.
One of them is called Ebisu, and he’s always represented carrying a sea bream (tai) fish. That’s why that particular fish is considered to be a symbol of fortune.
Taiyaki is supposed to bring happiness. This Japanese snack sparks everyone’s childhood memories.
It’s grown so much, and it’s such a common snack now. Most Japanese adults will remember growing up with this dish.
Honestly, if I lived in Japan, I would’ve never stopped eating this.
The most amazing part is that they still sell taiyaki even now. Over 10 million taiyaki have been sold since 1909!
I’ve always admired how Asian countries keep their traditions alive for future generations.
Taiyaki ice cream
The taiyaki can be a fish-shaped piece of bread, or it can be shaped like an ice cream cone so that you can serve ice cream in it.
It’s a stuffed, soft waffle ice cream cone and the ice cream is placed on the body of the fish.
Taiyaki ice cream is especially popular in the United States. There are all kinds of fun and unique flavors.
Have you heard of unicorn float taiyaki ice cream? It’s a fish-shaped cone made of taiyaki batter, filled with colorful ice cream, like a pink or green, topped with sprinkles, and garnished with a small unicorn horn on top made of taiyaki batter.
People absolutely love all things unicorn and colorful, so this ice cream trend is very popular, and taiyaki shops are flourishing.
If you want to try something just as exciting, you can get taiyaki cones filled with mochi, and matcha flavored ice cream.
Honestly, the flavor combinations are endless, with new varieties popping up all the time.
If you ever visit New York City, head over to one of the taiyaki shops that serve delicious ice cream.
Here are some of the most popular taiyaki ice cream flavors available:
- Matcha mochi
- Black sesame and matcha
- Rainbow mochi
Where can you buy taiyaki?
The taiyaki is famous all over Japan, and it’s made its way to Korea. Koreans call it “bungeoppang” or “carp bread.”
Because of this, many people ask, “is taiyaki Japanese or Korean?”
In both countries, this dessert is basically the same fish-shaped dish but with a different name.
Even though it’s popular in Korea, it’s well-known that taiyaki originated in Japan and later migrated to other parts of Asia. Koreans were the first to adopt the recipe, and this treat is just as popular there as it is in Japan.
But in Korea, eating bungeoppang is popular in winter when it’s cold outside. You grab a piping hot fish cake and walk around savoring this delicacy!
In Japan, you can find taiyaki at school fairs, festivals (which are also known as matsuris), and street stalls. It’s a classic street vendor snack.
You’ll see it get cooked in front of you in a fish-shaped iron mold. You can also find taiyaki sold at shopping mall entrances and in supermarkets all over Japan, and they cost around 100-300 yen each. It all depends where you buy it.
The size is usually 15cm, so it can perfectly fit in your hands.
They’re mostly found in Gintai in Tokyo’s Meguro ward, but there’s a variety of taiyaki around the country.
People have become more creative, especially street vendors. There’s even a pizza taiyaki and corn-filled taiyaki!
If you’re ever in Japan, try taiyaki from one of these top 3 taiyaki vendors in Tokyo:
- Nezu no Taiyaki – This is a classic taiyaki restaurant that only serves the cake with the traditional red bean paste filling. No fancy stuff here, but the locals swear the taiyaki is one of the best in the world!
- Naniwaya Souhonten – This is the store where the original taiyaki was first made. In this store, you’ll find all kinds of sweets, not just taiyaki. But their cake is one of the best in Tokyo because they have original recipes.
- Tetsuji Taiyaki – Tthis is a small franchise with only 3 stores. Still, their taiyaki is famous because it has a slightly different shape, and locals love it for its extra crispy exterior crust.
Taiyaki may be a Japanese snack, but you can now find it in the US as well. Americans usually add Nutella since it’s a more common filling for us than the red bean paste.
As I’ve said before, it’s totally up to you what you want your filling to be; it’s just that the traditional filling is the red bean paste.
My advice? Get 2 taiyaki! Try the traditional Japanese one, and then the American version of it.
Now, where specifically can you find taiyaki in the US?
Taiyaki ice cream is trending; you can find a famous ice cream shop in Boston’s seaport neighborhood. And we know the very famous Chinatown in New York. There are taiyaki ice cream shops in Williamsburg, NY, and Miami, FL too.
If you’re not up for making this dish at home, you can find taiyaki there and in other states. Florida, Massachusetts, and Toronto, Canada are all whipping up this snack as well, and you’ll discover taiyaki there.
But you probably won’t find it as “taiyaki”. However, I’m sure that if you reference a goldfish waffle cone with ice cream, they’ll give you what you’re looking for!
If you’re a local, I believe this would be a more comfortable option than buying the fish-shaped frying pan yourself.
Can you get taiyaki delivered?
You might be wondering if taiyaki can be delivered to your home?
Businesses are starting to deliver taiyaki. You can order it in New York and have it delivered hot and fresh in minutes!
Have you heard of Magikarp taiyaki?
Ok, here’s an interesting new trend sweeping Japan: the Magikarp taiyaki!
If you have no idea what Magikarp is, let me explain. It’s a Pokémon, a fish called Magikarp.
It resembles a koi fish, with a blue and white-colored body (red and golden-colored for the shiny version). Pokémon is a popular Japanese show and game, and it’s also popular all over the globe.
Once the game Pokémon Go was released, everything Pokémon-related became extremely popular once again.
Even taiyaki makers took note and started selling Magikarp Pokémon taiyaki.
The mold is a little bit different from the classic mold to resemble the shape of the anime character.
This type of taiyaki is extra special because of its unique flavor.
This sakura-themed taiyaki is a seasonal specialty honoring the spring season and the blossoming of the cherry trees in Japan.
The color of this cake is a light pink, just like that of sakura blossoms.
It has a lighter flavor than other types. The inside of the cake is filled with sakura mochi.
Once this type of cake launched, it really caught the attention of locals who really love it because it’s so pretty and picture-worthy.
Is taiyaki healthy?
You’re probably wondering if taiyaki is “healthy”. Well, it’s a dessert, so it’s not considered a particularly healthy or nutritious food.
However, it’s not a very high-calorie food. One cake has an average of 208 calories, depending on the fillings.
A fish-shaped cake has a weight of about 95 grams, and around 20 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of fat, and 8 grams of protein.
The cakes are rich in a mineral called molybdenum, which helps the body break down toxins.
They’re also a source of other minerals like copper, selenium, and calcium. Plus, they contain vitamin K (strengthens bones), B vitamins, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
Did you know that besides traditional red bean pastes taiyaki, there are options that are vegan and gluten-free?
This is the reason why this dessert is so popular in Japan. People with all kinds of dietary lifestyles can enjoy this tasty snack.
There are, of course, many kinds of non-vegan and non-gluten-free fillings that are available.
Increasingly, people are searching for vegan taiyaki options that are less unhealthy. For a simple vegan version, just substitute cows’ milk for almond or soy milk, and don’t use eggs.
Vegan taiyaki recipe
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp sugar
- ¾ cup almond (or other plant-based) milk
- 1 pinch salt
- Red bean paste (An)
- Vegetable oil
- All you have to do is mix all of your ingredients well until the batter is runny and smooth. It’s best to let your batter chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes before cooking.
- Grab your handy fish-shaped pan and heat it up.
- Add a bit of oil and pour batter into the mold until half full.
- Using a spoon, take a spoonful of red bean paste and place it in the middle of your fish. Now take more batter and cover your fish, filling the mold.
- Let it cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then flip the pan and let it cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes. The cake needs to have a golden-brown color. If it's too light or runny, it's undercooked. It should be golden and crispy, like a little goldfish.
For a traditional taiyaki recipe and to find out everything you’ll need, as well as the cooking process, keep reading.
Making taiyaki is simple; you don’t need many utensils or equipment besides the fish-shaped pan.
You’ll need the following utensils beforehand, so please try to get them before you start mixing any ingredients.
I’ll also be providing some links to get the perfect equipment, so the preparation of this snack can be as smooth as possible.
Here’s what you need:
- 1 whisk
- 2 bowls
- 1 fish-shaped frying pan/mold
- Measuring cups
- 1 brush (optional)
Where can I get a fish-shaped frying pan?
To make taiyaki properly, you need a fish-shaped pan. Without the mold, you can’t really make this cake. If you make it into other shapes, it’s not taiyaki anymore.
You can make the batter into little balls filled with red bean paste, and you’ll get a dessert called “walnut cakes”. It’s not taiyaki though.
So how do you find fish-shaped pans? I’ve got you covered!
Amazon has excellent frying pans, and they’re precisely what you need. Please see below, as I’ve added links to go directly to the website.
The best part of taiyaki pans is that they’re affordable. Most are under $30.
Every frying pan will have its own size, so just make sure before buying that it’s the size that you want your taiyaki to be. Most of them can fit perfectly in your hand.
This frying pan has a four-and-a-half star rating, and it’s accessible for any low budget.
This mold is for the traditional complete fish shape where you put the filling on the whole middle part of the taiyaki.
The dimension of this pan is:
- Pan of each side: 5 3/4 x 6 1/4 x 7/8″
- Fish-shaped mold of each side: 5 x 3″
- Handle: 5 1/2″ long
This product has stainless steel handles, a sturdy structure, and comes with a lifetime quality guarantee. It’s made of an aluminum alloy and has a non-stick coating, ensuring your cakes never stick to the pan.
If you want to use an electric taiyaki maker, Amazon has you covered.
This product is like an electric waffle maker or sandwich maker, except it has fish-shaped molds.
The advantage of this product is that your homemade taiyaki is ready in just 3 minutes!
Plus, there’s no flipping required. Just pour in the batter, add your filling, and let it cook away.
There’s also an electric mold; it’s similar to a sandwich maker, and it’s used to make fish-shaped ice cream cones.
And while it’s a little more out of the low-budget zone, it’s much easier and convenient to use. This is recommended for street stalls and small vendors.
If you want to make taiyaki to be used as an ice cream cone, this is the best option for you. It’s a little high in price, so this is better suited if you’re trying to start your own franchise.
Did you know that taiyaki pans are actually easy to clean? All you have to do is wipe them with a damp towel, and the crumbs will come off easily. Then wipe dry with some paper towels and store away.
Ingredients for taiyaki
Even though everyone has their own recipe and style, there are some basic ingredients you’ll need. These ingredients are basics that most people have in their homes.
For the batter, you’ll need flour, eggs, baking powder, baking soda, milk, and sugar. For frying, you’ll need some vegetable oil.
Taiyaki is a type of food that doesn’t need any sauces or extra toppings on the exterior. It’s already filled, so there’s no need to garnish it further.
If, however, you want to cut it up with a knife and fork, you can put some vanilla or chocolate sauce and garnish with whipped cream for a more waffle-like dessert.
What is the best flour to use for taiyaki?
For taiyaki, you must use flour that’s made from wheat. Usually, you can use cake flour to make taiyaki.
Cake flour is a type of bleached flour. It’s finely milled, very delicate, and has a low protein content compared to regular self-raising or all-purpose flour.
This flour is very fine and makes your cakes very fluffy; that’s why bakers prefer it.
But if you can’t find any cake flour, you can make taiyaki with all-purpose flour. However, the cake might be slightly less fluffy and soft.
Here’s a quick recipe:
- 150g of cake flour (you can replace with all-purpose flour, please go to Tips)
- 2/3 tbsp of baking powder
- 1 tbsp of baking soda
- 1 large egg (beaten)
- 200ml of milk
- 40g of sugar
- 250g of red bean paste
- Vegetable oil (preferably spray can vegetable oil) (any other filling of your choice; optional)
If you want to add a cold topping, get your favorite flavor of ice cream or the frozen yogurt of your preference to serve on top.
Traditional taiyaki recipe
- In a bowl put in the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. With your whisk, start stirring 2-3 times to make sure it’s evenly mixed. These will be your dry ingredients.
- Add the sugar into the bowl. Stir 4-5 times, so everything is mixed thoroughly.
- Lightly beat the egg in a separate bowl.
- Add the milk to the beaten egg and mix well. It doesn’t matter if you take long, just don’t overdo it.
- Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Don’t overmix. You can do this by adding the wet ingredients in portions instead of the whole thing all at once. You can put the batter in the refrigerator for about an hour. This will allow the flour to absorb the liquid, and it’ll be smoother.
- Heat up your taiyaki pan and lightly oil it with a brush. Or if you have canned vegetable oil, spray it lightly and pre-warm over medium heat on your stove. (If you got the electric waffle maker, just add oil.)
- Pour a thin layer of batter into the fish on one side of the pan. Grab a spoon of red bean paste or the filling of preference and place it in the center of the fish’s body, and then some on the head. Drop some more batter on top of the red bean paste until covered.
- Close the taiyaki pan and flip/turn it.
- Reduce to low heat and flip over the pan every 2 minutes to make sure taiyaki is evenly cooked on both sides. Once cooked, serve, and enjoy.
If you’re preparing the taiyaki as a cone where you can serve ice cream, please continue reading.
From step 7, you’ll omit the part where it says to put the filling on the head. For this version of taiyaki, the head is hollow so you can put in ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Spoon a portion of red bean paste directly to the fish body’s center. Add more batter to cover it and close the frying pan.
10. Once the taiyaki’s cooked, wait a few minutes so the taiyaki isn’t too hot that it’ll melt anything you put on quickly.
11. Pour the toppings of your choice or place a spoon of it on the mouth. There you go! An ice cream cone version taiyaki. Now it looks like the tai is eating your ice cream.
- If you have any batter left over or you’re taking your time doing each taiyaki, please keep the batter refrigerated.
- If you can’t find cake flour, you can use all-purpose flour. You can add 1 level up a cup of all-purpose flour, remove 2 tbsp, and replace with 2 tbsp of cornstarch. That’ll equal 1 cup of cake flour.
- Don’t worry if the batter spills a little or all over once you turn the frying pan. You can just cut it or remove the excess batter to leave your taiyaki in the perfect shape once it’s cooked.
- As I said before, I used red bean paste, but you can use the filling of your preference.
- The frying pan may get hot on the edges; please protect yourself with cooking gloves.
- Pancake mix can also be used.
- Once it’s done, you want to eat the taiyaki as hot as possible. You can literally toss them from one hand to another until you can hold them. Or you can just put them on a plate and wait a couple of minutes.
It’s an easy snack, and there’s no way of failing at this unless you undercook it. But I know you won’t make the same mistake I did. Let the taiyaki cook properly!
Have you heard about the taiyaki museum?
Before mentioning anything about the museum, I’ll tell you a little bit more about the history of imagawayaki and taiyaki, as well as their differences.
As I’ve said before, the main difference is their shapes. You could say taiyaki is the evolution of the imagawayaki. Basically, imagawayaki is a round-shaped pancake, and taiyaki is in the shape of the tai.
Another difference is the age of each. Imagawayaki was invented before taiyaki. Some stories say a man from Osaka went to Tokyo to sell imagawayaki. They became very popular and were eventually named “imagawayaki”.
Later, taiyaki was associated with the belief that eating tai or tai-related dishes would provide luck and for special celebrations.
Also, imagawayaki sticks strictly to the red bean paste filling, and taiyaki has many different versions.
If you’re interested in more than just trying these snacks, you should visit the Adzuki Museum. This museum is managed by Gozasōrō, an imagawayaki manufacturer.
This museum explains the traditions, the past, and the history of these snacks and Gozasōrō’s role in it.
I’m not making this up! Tthere’s a gift shop that even sells imagawayaki-themed cell phone straps and imagawayaki-shaped erasers. It’s an imagawayaki themed gift shop!
I’m all about traditions and customs. I love learning new things about how the rest of the world lives. So if you’re just like me, I really recommend checking it out.
At the museum, you can also learn how to make your own taiyaki at home. Master taiyaki makers share all their tips and tricks, plus they show you live how to become a great taiyaki cook!
With all this knowledge about taiyaki, you’re sure to want to grab some to eat. Let’s discuss storage options.
Can I freeze taiyaki?
You can make a large batch of taiyaki and freeze them for later. It’s easy to store taiyaki. You just freeze each individual cake.
First, you should wrap each fish in plastic cling wrap, then place them in Ziplock bags.
The reason you want to cover them individually is that you want to avoid the cakes sticking together in the freezer. They’ll break apart when you thaw them if they’re stuck.
You can freeze them in your freezer for approximately 2 months. If you choose to keep them in the fridge, they’re good for about 2 days, no more.
Some grocery stores sell wrapped taiyaki. It’s sort of like a baked pastry, not quite the real thing.
Asian grocery shops will have these sweet treats wrapped like chocolate bars. If you want to order some Japanese packaged taiyaki, try this brand on Amazon:
Note: This snack also comes with strawberry cream filling.
Chow down on taiyaki
If you want to try taiyaki, you have 3 good options:
- Plan a trip to Japan and have a taste of all the great street food they have there.
- If you aren’t going to Japan anytime soon, search Google for the nearest taiyaki shop in your city and go there to have hot taiyaki or yummy taiyaki ice cream.
- If neither of the above are options, hit up Amazon, order a fish-shaped pan, and give the recipes in this article a try!
I’m sure you’ll enjoy the sweet taste of this delicious dessert.
Remember that with taiyaki, you can always substitute the red bean paste filling for something else; sweet or salty, whatever you prefer!
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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.