What is one traditional Japanese snack which draws customers’ attention regardless of the season? Taiyaki!
Taiyaki is a fish-shaped cake with various delicious fillings. Despite its fish-shape, it has no fish-derived ingredients! Taiyaki is made using regular pancake or waffle batter. The batter is poured into a fish-shaped mould for each side. The filling is then put on one side and the mold is closed, cooking both sides until they’re golden brown. The process to make Taiyaki itself takes approximately 10 minutes. It is such an interesting experience to see how the process of making it takes place, while waiting for your order to come. Therefore, every time I buy Taiyaki, I always take time to watch the fascinating process of making it.
Taiyaki is believed to have originated in Tokyo in the Meiji era, but is now found all over Japan, especially at food courts of supermarkets and Japanese festivals. They are similar to Imagawayaki, which are thick round cakes also filled with sweet azuki bean paste or custard. Now, we can find Taiyaki shops everywhere in Tohoku region, especially in big cities. Taiyaki became all the rage when “Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun” (“Swim! Taiyaki”) emerged as an extremely popular children’s song in 1976. Since then, innovators have offered variations in filling ranging from custard cream to black sesame, cheese and sausage – anything to put between the batter and keep customers engaged.
In Sendai, there are a lot of Taiyaki shops. The best (in my opinon) is ‘Taikichi’ in the area in front of Sendai station. It is highly accessible. Being my favorite food, I frequently buy one almost every time I go downtown. Although I eat it a lot and frequently, I never get sick and tired of it. Buying Taiyaki, one must be patient. Taiyaki shops are almost always crowded with customers. They are standing paitiently in line to get their hands on (or teeth around) one of these tasty treats. However, even if it involves waiting several minutes until the process of making is done – it is entirely worth it. Every bite of it is a sweet reward.
You might notice that alongside the traditional fried Taiyaki are a new ‘cool’ version, with cream-filled toppings. The new version remains white, though it is grilled the same way. The secret of the color lies in a new batter ingredient: tapioca flour, the same used to make pearl tapioca, the small, whitish-transparent starch balls typically served with milk tea as dessert in Chinese or other Asian restaurants.
To me, what makes Taiyaki special is not the shape merely, but the taste. The shape is unique, for sure. But the taste is what really matters. There are several fillings available at Taikichi. Those are normal cream, strawberry cream, Ham and Mayonnaise, Green Tea (Macha), Red Bean, Black Sesame, Green Been, Chocolate, and Zunda (edamame). The price of each Taiyaki varies depending on the flavour (usually ranging from JPY 100-200). The cheapest one I could find had a ham and mayonnaise filling. The others mostly cost JPY130, except for Edamame filling which costs JPY 200.
There is something unique about the way Taiyaki shops offer their products to customers. They change the menus day by day. For example, on Monday there may be Taiyaki ham and Mayonnaise, edamame, strawberry, and cream. But the following day, those products are replaced by other sorts. Products available on Tuesday may differ from the following day, etc. The fresh change of products everyday makes customers curious about what is available on the day when they pass by the Taiyaki shop. This is why many people often drop for a while looking on the banner in front of Taiyaki shops which show the specials for that day. Due to this, I often manage myself to drop by Taiyaki shop every time I go downtown to find out what products are available on that day.
Taiyaki is not merely a kind of snack. Containing carbohydrate and other nutritious substances, it can substitute our meal when we are starving. Taiyaki can be an answer for people who have dietary restriction, such as vegetarians and Moslem who need ‘halal’ food. Except the one containing Ham and mayonnaise filling, other kinds of Taiyaki do not use any meat. So, it is also good for vegans.