You might already know about taiyaki, the delicious fish-shaped Japanese street food. Recently, it has garnered international attention for its cute fish shape and tasty fillings. Now that the sweltering summer months are upon us, the fish dessert has sparked a new trend: taiyaki ice cream.
You may have seen pictures of this “cool” combination on your Instagram feeds in the form of cute fish-shaped cones holding scoops of ice cream in their mouths. Let’s find out all about this trend taking over the world of taiyaki!
What is Taiyaki
Taiyaki is made from a waffle-like batter that is baked in a mold in the shape of a fish and filled with red bean paste, similar to Japanese sweets like dorayaki (a Japanese red bean pancake). Taiyaki is designed to look like a tai (red seabream), which are fish eaten during celebrations in Japan.
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Taiyaki’s origins date back to the Edo era. The original taiyaki were called imagawayaki (a Japanese stuffed pancake), and they were circular, rather than fish-shaped. Around one hundred years ago, during the Meiji era, a shop came up with the idea of making the circular sweet into the shape of a tai, thus creating the taiyaki we know today.
We don’t know for sure who invented the first taiyaki, but the trend caught on quickly, becoming one of the most popular Japanese street foods. One of the oldest shops is Naninwaya Souhonten, which began making taiyaki in 1909. You can still purchase their original handmade taiyaki there today.
You can also find taiyaki sold at stalls and shops all over Japan, especially during festivals. Common fillings include azuki (red bean) paste, sweet potato, chestnut, cream, and chocolate. You can even find taiyaki year-round at most Japanese convenience stores, including 7-11 and Lawson.
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New York City: The Birthplace of Taiyaki Ice Cream
Taiyaki ice cream is one Japanese food trend you can hop on even if you live in the USA.
The shop which began the trend is actually located in New York City! Taiyaki NYC took this traditional Japanese street food to another level by turning taiyaki into ice-cream cones.
These “cones” are cooked like genuine taiyaki. The shop uses the traditional waffle-like batter, making them softer in texture than usual ice cream cones. The taiyaki ice cream cones are cooked on-site in giant rotating fish-shaped molds, similar to the traditional taiyaki mold griddles used in Japan, but with a slightly different shape. The mouth of the fish is open, ready to welcome a heaping scoop of ice cream.
The base of the fish, in true taiyaki form, is filled with either anko (sweet red bean paste) or custard. But the top is where the action is at.
You can choose your favorite flavor of soft-serve Japanese ice cream from a wide variety, including vanilla, matcha, black sesame, or chocolate. Toppings include sprinkles, graham cracker crumbs, mini M&Ms, and mochi. The result is a delicious and totally Instagrammable dessert!
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To get your hands on these pretty fishies, you can head to Taiyaki NYC’s locations in NYC in Queens, Manhattan, Chinatown, Flushing, and Williamsburg. Outside of NYC, you can also find them in Miami, Boston, and Toronto.
What About Taiyaki Ice Cream on the West Coast
If you’re on the West Coast, there is another taiyaki ice cream brand for you! Somisomi is a US-based chain serving ice cream in cones made from the Korean version of taiyaki, ah-boong. For now, Somisomi has locations all over California, some in Texas, and one in Las Vegas, but they are rapidly expanding to more locations.
Like Taiyaki NYC, Somisomi offers different fillings for your fish-shaped waffle cone, like custard, nutella, red bean, red bean with cream cheese, or taro. Then, you add a scoop of your favorite ice cream flavor, with options including milk, matcha, ube or black sesame. Somisomi has tons of toppings too, even more than Taiyaki NYC, with options like oreo crumbs, strawberry bits, and macarons.
And What About Japan
Even though Japan is the birthplace of taiyaki, they don’t have taiyaki ice cream just yet. In Tokyo, there are stores serving taiyaki with a side of ice cream, like Taiyaki Hiragi in Shibuya and Kurikoan near Iidabashi. At some stands and ice cream shops in summer, you can also purchase frozen taiyaki as a cool treat.
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Sadly, none of these stores are quite as aesthetic as the fish-shaped ice cream cones of Taiyaki NYC or Somisomi. Will this modern twist on the 100-year-old treat catch on in Japan too? Only time will tell.
If you aren’t near one of Somisomi or Taiyaki NYC’s locations, you can try learning how to make taiyaki at home. Just add a scoop of ice cream to get your very own taiyaki ice cream!