If there were ever a typical “meibutsu” of Tokyo, it would have to be taiyaki. The original taiyaki shop is Naniwaya, in Azabujuban, which invented taiyaki in 1909. “Tai” or sea bream is a traditionally expensive, luxurious food – it’s often served at weddings, because the word “tai” is in “omedetai” or “auspicious”.
But for the average person, tai was too expensive so when Naniwaya introduced taiyaki, shaped like the expensive fish but at an affordable price in the Meiji era, it was an instant hit. People could enjoy a small luxury. Made of sweet batter similar to a waffle and filled with bean paste, taiyaki is warm, cheap and tasty, so I love it in winter. In summer, you can buy taiyaki filled with ice cream! I heard they have something very similar in Korea.
In 1975, a hit children’s song about taiyaki called “Oyoge! Taiyaki kun” or “Swim! Little taiyaki” was released, mentioning Naniwaya and modelled on the ever-cheerful owner, Masamori Kobe. The song made the Guiness Book of Records for best selling single ever, in Japan. Sadly, Mr Kobe, “Taiyaki Ojisan”, died two years ago, but the shop lives on. It now also offers kakigori (shaved ice) in summer and yakisoba.
|The original taiyaki from Naniwaya. Crispy and delicious.|
|Making taiyaki at Naniwaya|
Naniwaya in Azabujuban: 1-8-14 open 10am – 8pm http://www.azabujuban.or.jp/shop/food/1403.html
Here's a link to the taiyaki song in a 1970's TV special with cute animations and groovy fashions: oyoge! taiyakikun
The standard fillings are anko (sweet red bean paste) or shiroan (white bean paste made from butter beans, which isn’t quite as heavy and “beany”). But you can also get chocolate, sweet potato and in Shibuya I’ve seen cheese, “german potato” and bolognaise sauce. If you want a more way-out Taiyaki, you should try “The Taiyaki”on Center Gai, Shibuya.
My favourite taiyaki shop is Nezu no Taiyaki on the main street of Nezu, kind of in front of Nezu shrine (exit Nezu station to the left and follow the sweet, waffly aroma). They’re crisp, fresh, very hot and the anko filling is a little chunky – perfect in winter. It’s often featured on TV shows and as each Taiyaki is made individually, there is usually a line on weekends. And for trivia buffs, apparently, former US VP Walter Mondale went there once. Big time.
If you want real value for money, head to Kanda Taiyaki Daruma, where they don’t trim off the edges of the waffle mix, so you get a yummy, crispy square with a big fish in the middle. They have a second outlet in Ueno, under the train tracks in Ameyoko. They cost about 140 yen.
|Kanda Taiyaki Daruma in Ueno|
|The store's daruma logo|
|Yummy. This one from Yokohama Kurikoan had "pariparichoco" - crispy chocolate inside.|
|Taiyaki from Solamachi at Skytree.|
|Giant taiyaki model as a store display in Ginza.|
|They also made taiyaki mobiles!|
Being a working folk’s treat, taiyaki shops tend to be in the “downtown” areas or near universities for all those hungry students. It’s ironic that Azabujuban is now one of the most expensive areas of Tokyo, thanks to all the international embassies.
Recently I’ve seen taiyaki molds for making your own at home – they look like a sandwich press (or jaffle maker) and come with different shaped metal inserts. I want one!
|I saw these at Kitchen 212. The brand is Vitantonio.|
Finally, some taiyaki eating etiquette: it’s better to pull it open with your hands than just bite the head or tail off. The worst thing you can do is bite it in the middle – you’ll look like a cat!
|This is Neko Musume, or Catgirl, from Mizuki Shigeru's awesome manga, Gegege no Kitaro.|