A classic street vendor snack in Japan, Taiyaki is a warm, fish-shaped cake with sweet red bean filling. This waffle-like Japanese treat is very popular at street fairs and festivals. In this recipe, I’ll show you how you can make fresh, hot Taiyaki at home.
What I miss most about Japanese summertime is the astonishing array of Japanese street foods offered by vendors at hundreds of festivals (matsuri) that take place across the country this time of year. There is endless of good eats to indulge in, but one of the must-try is the fish-shaped waffle-like snack called Taiyaki (鯛焼き).
Typically filled with sweet red bean paste, taiyaki are the stuff of childhood dreams! Just the thought of taiyaki would bring an intense craving and smile to my face!
Table of Contents
What is Taiyaki?
Easily recognizable by its whimsical fish-shaped, taiyaki (鯛焼き) is a waffle-style cake/snack filled with sweet red bean paste (anko), and sometimes with other fillings such as custard, chocolate, Nutella, or cheese.
It is a quintessential food at Japanese street fairs and festivals and is made in a fish-shaped iron mold resembling tai (red sea bream). In Japan, you can also find taiyaki shops that specialize in making pastries.
Most recently, this traditional treat has been reimagined by trendy shops across the world. In Tokyo, there is croissant taiyaki, where they combine croissant dough with tasty fillings.
In the US, you can find Taiyaki NY, a specialty shop with a few locations in New York and a few other places that serve taiyaki as handheld ice cream cones and topped with soft-serve ice cream. You can customize your ice cream flavor—from matcha and black sesame swirl to chocolate—and finish with red bean filling, a wafer stick, and mini mochi. Each taiyaki cone is crafted to fill your Instagram feeds.
Origin and Why is Taiyaki Shaped Like a Fish?
Tai means “sea bream” and yaki means “grilled/baked”. You can trace its origin back to the Edo Period over 300 years ago. Before taiyaki took its shape, taiyaki was first imagawayaki, a warm round-shaped cake that is filled with sweet red bean paste.
During the Meiji-era (1868 – 1912), tai (sea bream) was considered a highly prized fish and only eaten for special celebrations. The fish became the symbol of good luck in Japan’s way of life and culture. Some enterprising pastry makers decided to modify imagawayaki by refashioning the round-shaped cake into a brand new sea bream fish look. With that, taiyaki was born and it became a huge hit.
Childhood Memories of Taiyaki
When taiyaki is freshly made, the crispy exterior surrounding the warm soft cake with anko filling is delectable. I would toss it between my hands to avoid getting burnt and slowly bite into the steaming hot cake. I usually start eating from the head side and the tail last (how about you?).
When I was young, I sometimes had to share a taiyaki with my younger brother and I always fought for the head side because taiyaki shops do not always fill the red bean paste all the way to the tail. I was always really disappointed when they don’t!
Ingredients You’ll Need
As you could see, we only need simple pantry ingredients to make this classic taiyaki recipe:
- Cake flour
- Baking powder & baking soda
- Whole milk
- Filling: Red bean paste (anko) or others such as Nutella, chocolate, custard, etc)
- Neutral oil
How to Make Taiyaki
- Make the batter.
- Heat the taiyaki pan and pour the batter.
- Add the filling of your choice and cook!
Other Cooking Notes
Each taiyaki store and family has its own recipe and style for taiyaki, and my recipe leans toward cakey, fluffy pancake texture as my kids prefer it that way. I like mine to be on the crispy side like waffles. If you also like crispy texture, omit the egg and adjust the liquid amount for the batter.
Making taiyaki is very similar to a waffle making. The only extra touch is the filling. What kind of filling should we prepare? Let’s talk about that next.
Without a doubt, sweet red bean paste (Anko) is the most classic and popular choice of filling, but you can also find other sweet and savory options:
- Custard cream (recipe)
- Sweet potato paste, and more!
Special Tool: Taiyaki Pan
Taiyaki is not taiyaki without its iconic shape! Since I know I’d make it every summer as a tradition for my children (and myself), I decided to get the fish-shaped taiyaki pan from Amazon.
More Japanese Street Snacks You’ll Love
- Imagawayaki (Obanyaki)
- Dorayaki (Japanese Red Bean Pancake)
- Baked Japanese Sweet Potatoes (Yaki Imo)
Taiyaki (Japanese Fish Shaped Waffle)
- 1¼ cups cake flour (or make homemade cake flour; I strongly encourage you to use a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients; if you use a measuring cup, follow this method: Fluff your flour with a spoon, sprinkle it into your measuring cup, and use a knife to level it off; otherwise, 1 cup of flour will weigh more than 120 g)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 large egg (50 g w/o shell)
- ¾ cup whole milk (¾ cup + 4 tsp for 5 pieces, to be precise; adjust the amount of milk depending on the egg size)
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 5 Tbsp sweet red bean paste (anko) (you can make my homemade Anko recipe; you can also use Nutella, custard, or your favorite filling)
- 1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.) (for greasing the grill)
- Gather all the ingredients. You will also need a taiyaki maker. Please note that each brand of taiyaki maker comes with a different-sized mold. If you are making taiyaki for the first time, consider this a trial run for measuring the portion of ingredients you'll need for your particular taiyaki mold.
- Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and baking soda into a large bowl.
- Add the sugar and whisk well to combine.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and then add the milk to combine well.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk well. Keep the batter in the refrigerator for at least one hour to rest and let the flour absorb the liquid. Tip: Whisking the batter creates gluten; by letting it rest, the batter will relax and become smooth.
- Pour the batter into a measuring cup or jug. You should have about 1¼ cups for 5 pieces.
- Preheat the taiyaki maker over medium-low heat. When it's hot, grease the pan with the vegetable oil using a brush.
- Fill the taiyaki pan mold about 60% full.
- Put about 1 Tbsp of anko in the center of each mold and pour more batter on top to cover it.
- Optional: You can also use Nutella as a filling.
- Close the lid and immediately flip.
- Cook for 2 to 2½ minutes on that side. Then flip and cook for another 2 to 2½ minutes. Open and check to see if the taiyaki is golden brown. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Continue cooking the remaining taiyaki.
- Serve warm. If the taiyaki get cold, you can toast it in the toaster oven or oven until it's crispy on the outside.
- You can keep the taiyaki in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to a month.