Taiyaki is a beloved wintertime snack in Japan. Sold by street vendors across the country, these are fish-shaped cakes stuffed with different fillings. The most common break apart to reveal sweet red beans (anko) inside, but you’ll also find cakes with chocolate, custard, gyoza stuffing and even flavoured cheese.
In terms of pop culture presence, all eyes today are on Taiyaki NYC. The bakery opened in 2016 and has continually enjoyed viral popularity and long lines. The mania isn’t surprising—remember New Yorkers' crazed cronut crawl in 2013?
This dessert, however, was built for Instagram; to make you stop, stare and (hopefully) start drooling between endless bookmarks of #foodporn. How could you not? Carefully dual-toned swirls of soft serve, cutesy toppings and bright colours that scream eat me!—the most austere of us would be hard-pressed to resist.
Cleverly, it doesn't have the guilt of excess that 'freakshakes', another Instagram-oriented dessert, seemed to bring because of their size. With no Texas-size portions, you can actually finish one of these goodies, and still feel greedy enough to take another home.
Taiyaki NYC opened up five more outlets by 2020, even crossing borders into downtown Toronto. They’re not the first to think of stuffing taiyaki with ice cream, but with central locations and clever marketing (even the brand name is SEO optimised...genius), it looks like they’ve fought their way to the top.
Many call taiyaki the ‘Japanese waffle’ because it’s grilled on a fish-shaped mould. But if you look deeper, history plays spoilsport. Taiyaki emerged from imagawayaki, a round red bean snack from the Edo era (1603-1868).
The latter was a simple wagashi, a traditional teatime confection, until one Tokyo vendor decided to glam it up in 1909, the Meiji era. His shop, Naniwaya, did incredibly well—in fact, its taiyaki still sells like hotcakes. The new dessert, shaped like the auspicious sea bream (‘tai’ in Japanese) travelled to China, Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea, where it melded into local cuisine. Koreans love their version, bungeoppang, so much, they actually created a crowdsourced, countrywide map.
Are Taiyaki NYC’s treats too pretty to eat? Probably. Do we still dream of stuffing our faces with them on the first available flight to New York City? You bet.
Read | New York From Your Couch