All About Taiyaki

by Dallas Ernst
taiyaki filled with red bean paste


Taiyaki means “baked sea bream” in Japanese. Sea bream is the nickname for a species of saltwater fish called tai in Japan. Although this food looks like a fish, taiyaki is actually a small cake with filling, making it a sweet treat.

This Japanese street food is cute, easy to eat, and—of course—delicious. Learn more about this unique Japanese snack with our guide to taiyaki!

imagawayaki filled with red bean paste


First there was imagawayaki, an Edo period (1603 to 1868) Japanese dessert and snack sold from food stalls. An imagawayaki was a round cake typically filled with sweet red bean paste, or anko. Other sweet fillings—like custards and preserves—as well as savory fillings—like curry, meat, and vegetables—could also be found.

The exact origin of the iconic taiyaki fish shape is unknown, but it’s said that imagawayaki sellers, from what’s now Tokyo, decided to try making the cakes fish-shaped, since the tai fish is a symbol of luck. The word tai is like the word “medetai,” which means happy or prosperous. This newly shaped snack sold better, and so taiyaki became the norm.

taiyaki being cooked in taiyaki pan

How Taiyaki Are Made

The fish-shaped cake made is from a batter similar to a pancake or waffle batter, although taiyaki batter is normally a bit thinner in order to really fill and settle into the fish-shaped molds. This way, the taiyaki comes out with a detailed face, fins, and scales.

The taiyaki is filled before being sealed and then baked until golden brown. The texture of taiyaki is crispy around the edges and a bit chewier and denser—compared to a typical pancake—toward the filled center. This is so the taiyaki will hold up to being stuffed.

taiyaki filled with ice cream and strawberry

Taiyaki Interpretations

Though the traditional sweet red bean paste filling is still a popular choice, modern interpretations of taiyaki have led to new fillings and flavors. Custard, chocolate, and sweet potato are just some of the many options. More savory fillings—like cheese, gyōza (dumpling) filling and sausage—are also available at some locations.

We can’t talk about modern spins on taiyaki without mentioning taiyaki ice cream. The taiyaki acts as the cone for essentially any flavor of ice cream, with either anko or custard hidden in the bottom of the tail. Especially popular during the summer, taiyaki filled with ice cream can be found in selfies across the internet and around the world, in major cities like NYC.

Another modern interpretation of taiyaki is puku puku tai, a crisp, fish-shaped snack filled with mousse. The sweet mousse filling comes in a variety of flavors, like caramel, chocolate, strawberry and more.

Puku Puku Tai: Strawberry (10 Pieces)
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Puku Puku Tai: Chocolate
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taiyaki pan

Where To Find Taiyaki

Today, taiyaki are still popular in Tokyo as well as across Japan and around the globe. They’re sold at food stands during festivals, or matsuri in Japan, but they can also be found frozen in certain supermarkets. You can always try making them yourself with a taiyaki mold, slightly thinned pancake/waffle batter and your preferred filling.

Experience flavors of Japan right from home

Wanna see what taiyaki looks like up close? This sakura mochi taiyaki was available for a limited time at McDonald's Japan!