Taiyaki literally means “grilled red snapper or sea bream,” but that’s not what we are going to talk about here. Taiyaki can also refer to a pancake filled with adzuki (red bean) paste in the shape of an adorable, anime-style tai (red snapper or sea bream). It is a street snack that has been enjoyed in Japan since the Meiji period (1868–1912).
Although its origins are somewhat murky, taiyaki is definitely derived from Imagawayaki, another popular street food. This pancake filled with red bean paste has been loved since Edo period (1603–1868), when it was sold near the Kanda Imagawabashi bridge (where the name comes from). During the Meiji period, similar pancakes in various shapes were sold, but only taiyaki has survived to this day. Fish are considered a symbol of good fortune and happiness in Japan, and so are adzuki beans. So, taiyaki is not only a casual snack sold on the street, but also one full of happiness.
Traditionally, you can make taiyaki in two different ways: using a pan with a single taiyaki mold and using one with multiple molds. The single pan allows a taiyaki chef to flip it constantly to grill it to perfection. The result is a masterfully thin pancake skin and an abundance of adzuki filling. The pan with multiple molds can make many taiyaki at once, but it is hard to flip the iron pan frequently since it is very heavy, so the taiyaki made with the multiple-mold pan has a thicker and fluffier cake layer. Taiyaki fans in Japan call the single-mold taiyaki tennen (wild) and the multiple-mold ones yoshoku (cultured), using the same terms to distinguish between wild and farm-raised fish such as salmon, tuna, and yellowtail.
Taiyaki has evolved over the past 100 years, shaped by people’s preferences and current trends. Today, we have a variety of filling options in addition to the traditional red bean paste: custard cream, chocolate cream, cheese, and even savory stuffing. These days, there are also new types of batters, such as matcha (green tea)- or chocolate-flavored batter. Double-chocolate taiyaki (chocolate-flavored batter filled with chocolate cream) is especially decadent.
Hanetsuki taiyaki (taiyaki with wings) is becoming increasingly popular. In this style, the fish shape is surrounded by a thin, cookie-like rectangle, allowing you to enjoy both the fluffy cake and the crispy cookie at the same time. Croissant-style taiyaki are available, too.
Although it is not, strictly speaking, taiyaki, taiyaki ice cream has been loved in Japan for decades. Vanilla ice cream and adzuki paste are encased in taiyaki-shaped wafers called monaka.
Around 2010, the latest variation––the “taiyaki parfait”––debuted in Japan. This consists of ice cream, topped with decorations, in a taiyaki cone. (The traditional taiyaki shape is a bit modified in order to accommodate the ice cream, though–– the fish’s mouth is opened unnaturally wide.)
Taiyaki has evolved differently abroad. Introduced in Korea during the 1930s, taiyaki have been enjoyed there as bungeoppang, which literally means “crucian carp cake/bread.” Bungeoppang, though, is shaped more like a generic fish, rather than a red snapper. Korea is also home to bite-sized mini taiyaki, which were invented there.
Here in New York, you can enjoy many types of taiyaki, from the original to the newer versions. If you want to try authentic taiyaki, go to Otafuku x Medetai in the East Village or Oishinbo in Mitsuwa Marketplace (in Edgewater, New Jersey). They both carry traditional taiyaki with adzuki filling as well as some cream fillings. In Delimanjoo in Koreatown, you can try Korean-style taiyaki––both bungeoppang and bite-sized mini bungeoppang, which they call delimanjoo. They offer croissant-style taiyaki as well. You can try ice cream in taiyaki cones at Taiyaki NYC, located between SoHo and Chinatown. Ice & Pan, a bubble-tea spot in Flushing, also serves taiyaki ice cream in various flavors.
Taiyaki at Otafuku x Medetai. Fluffy cake and azuki tsubuan (chunky red bean paste) are a divine combination.
Big taiyaki (left) and mini (right)
delimanjoo at Delimanjoo.
Otafuku x Medetai
220 E. 9th St., New York, NY 10003 | TEL: 646-998-3438 | www.otafukuny.com
Oishinbo at Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Rd., Edgewater, NJ 07020 | TEL: 201-941-7622 | www.mitsuwa.com
11 W. 32nd St., New York, NY 10001
119 Baxter St., New York, NY 10013 | TEL: 212-966-2882 | www.taiyakinyc.com
Ice & Pan
136-37 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, NY 11354 | TEL: 843-367-0681 | www.iceandpanusa.com
If you have a taiyaki pan or taiyaki mold at home, you can choose any batter and any filling you like. (Taiyaki pans are available online for $20 to $100.)
Gluten-Free Taiyaki (Makes 2 pieces)
■ 1/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
■ 1/3 cup adzuki (red bean) paste ■ Oil for brushing pan
1. Mix flour, egg, and milk well to make batter.
2. Heat the taiyaki pan at medium heat.
3. Brush pan with oil and pour the batter into the taiyaki pan on a grill.
4. Place two spoonfuls of red bean paste in the center of the fish halves and cover with batter.
5. Close the pan and grill both sides, 2 minutes each. Flip a couple of times to cook both sides evenly.
Sausage Taiyaki (Makes 2 pieces)
■ 1/3 cup pancake mix ■ 1 egg ■ 1/4 cup milk or water
■ 1/2-1 sausage Oil for brushing pan
1. Make batter by mixing pancake mix and milk or water.
2. Cut sausage into small bits.
3. Heat the taiyaki pan at medium heat.
4. Brush pan with oil and pour the batter into the taiyaki pan on a grill.
5. Place sausage bits in the center of the fish halves and cover with batter.
6. Close the pan and grill both sides, 2 minutes each. Flip a couple of times to cook both sides evenly.
If you don’t want to buy a special taiyaki pan but want to enjoy freshly cooked taiyaki at home, try frozen taiyaki, available at Japanese grocery stores. Cook it in either the microwave or toaster oven for 2 to 3 minutes. The photo here is of one made in a toaster oven. It gives the taiyaki a crispy texture, making it the perfect complement to the red bean paste.