Here’s a new Japanese taiyaki recipe for the health-conscious. These fish are so yummy, even vegetarians will make an exception and eat them for breakfast!

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If you’ve ever been to a department store’s basement food floor in Japan, you were probably lured to the taiyaki stand by your nose. Imagine the smell of homemade waffles cooking just before you open up the steaming hot lid. 

Don’t you ever wish your breakfast was more fun… like when you were a kid?

With a little effort, imagination, and a special fish-shaped pan from Japan,  you can enjoy this “fresh catch of the day” at home, guilt-free…

You don’t need marshmallows in your cereal to make breakfast fun again! 

taiyaki recipe

What are taiyaki? 

This is the best definition I’ve come up with myself:

Traditional Japanese taiyaki are warm, fish-shaped pancake sandwiches that are filled with sweetened red bean paste and cooked inside hot waffle irons that are molded in the shape of tai.

Tai, or sea bream in English, is an expensive fish in Japan that’s believed to bring you good fortune.

The texture of taiyaiki can be more like crispy waffles than soft, fluffy pancakes. For one, the outsides of fish have scales and pancakes don’t. Though, you can adjust the consistency of the batter if you prefer more of a fluffy, cake-like texture.

Taiyaki is a popular dessert sold by street vendors at pretty much every festival or fair you go to in Japan. It’s a favorite traditional Japanese snack which is believed to have originated during the Meiji Era (1868 to 1912).

Looking at the basic recipe, it would make sense that the original taiyaki evolved from the round-shape imagawayaki, a red bean-filled, pancake-like dessert that dates back to the 18th century.

If in fact Darwin was right, when the imagawayaki sprouted fins and a tail, it evolved into taiyaki to become Japan’s very first Instagrammable sweet way before it’s time. #taiyaki

By the way, if you haven’t already, you can follow me on Instagram here. It will bring you seven years good luck. 


Taiyaki Fillings, Old and New 

Classic taiyaki are filled with anko, azuki red bean paste. Nowadays, you’ll also find shops selling taiyaki filled with custard, chocolate, and matcha cream. Speaking of Instagram, in cities like New York, you can even try taiyaki-shaped ice cream cones

Old-fashion or setting new trends, one thing all these fish-shaped treats have in common is that they’re a dessert. While the original red bean filling may sound healthier than chocolate cream, it can still contain a lot of added sugar.

Inspired by this popular treat for special occasions, I wanted to recreate it into a healthy breakfast or snack that’s fun to eat. I thought what kid on Earth could resist a fish-shaped breakfast?

This is a fun and healthy recipe that even the fussy eater in your family will love.

What fillings are inside this taiyaki? 

I’m going to share my secret recipe down below.

It’s not what you’d expect.

taiyaki fillings

Do you want to know the secret ingredients? 

This part, maybe the vegetarians aren’t going to like so much, but biology science geeks will appreciate…

When creating this recipe, I tried to imagine it through the eyes of a child. I thought, ‘What would make it fun to eat for kid?’ I used to teach first and second grade so I have a pretty good idea of what kids like.

For the most part, kids like being surprised, they like what makes them curious and use their imagination, and they even like being a little grossed out once in a while.

Inspired by biology, I decided it would be fun to make the filling (or guts) of these fish-shaped treats just like the guts of real fish.

Kids love to discover what’s inside.

Fun Tip: Check for food allergies and then keep what’s inside a secret. If you’re serving these to kids, explain that their taiyaki have real fish guts inside. Let them build some anticipation of being totally grossed out. When they get enough guts to take their first bite, they’ll be pleasantly rewarded for their courage by the unexpected sweet taste!

taiyaki fillings

Here are the ingredients I decided would be best for the guts:

Note: this recipe is more advanced and time-consuming. If I don’t have a lot of time, I make taiyaki with just one filling or without any fillings.

white fish meat =  mushy banana

fish heart = half of a raspberry or cherry

fish innards (digestive tract, stomach, liver, etc– the dark color) = blueberries

fish bones (optional) = add crushed macadamia nuts for a crunchy texture

Tip for beginners: On your first attempt, I recommend adding only a small amount of filling or no filling at all. This will highly increase your chances of your first batch turning out and prevent an explosion of pretend fish guts all over your stove top. 

These are just the ideas for fillings I came up with. You could definitely swap in other healthy ingredients to replace the fruit:

mashed sweet potato, almond butter, matcha powder, chia seeds, pineapple with coconut, peanut butter banana … With the imagination of a child, the different tasty variations are limitless.

If you’re “adulting”, you could even fill them with smoked salmon, capers, cucumber slices, and dill. But I don’t know, is putting actual fish inside a pretend fish crossing the line of poor taste?

taiyaki pan

Before you can recreate this recipe in your kitchen…

First, where to buy a taiyaki pan 

The only downside to this recipe, is that you’ll need to buy a taiyaki pan. It’s been two or three years since I bought mine in Kappabashi, Tokyo’s “Kitchen Town”. Kappabashi is a shopping street between Ueno and Asakusa that’s dedicated to restaurant supplies.

I bought a high quality, iron taiyaki pan made by a famous Japanese brand for about $50 dollars, and never used it. I had the idea to recreate taiyaki and make them healthy over two years ago. Then I changed course with my blog and never followed through.

If you don’t live in Japan, you can still get a taiyaki pan from Amazon. The Japanese food blogger behind Chopstick Chronicles ordered her taiyaki pan from Amazon. As you can tell by her photos, her taiyaki turned out great.

I also found my taiyaki pan on Amazon Japan here. I recommend this brand if you want high quality. Just be aware that’s it’s a heavy-duty, cast iron pan = heavy. 

How to make taiyaki