Traditionally in Japan, taiyaki is a fish-shaped cake filled with sweet adzuki bean paste. This is a new taiyaki recipe for the health-conscious. It's a gluten-free recipe without the cake flour, vegetable oil, and all that added sugar.Jump to Recipe
JAPANESE FISH-SHAPED WAFFLES
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 taiyaki 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!
You don't need an expensive commercial size taiyaki maker either.
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 luck and 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.
THE HISTORY OF TAIYAKI
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 (Edo Period).
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
TAIYAKI FILLINGS, OLD AND NEW
Classic taiyaki are filled with anko, azuki red bean paste. Nowadays, you’ll also find shops selling taiyaki with all kinds of fillings. Besides sweet bean paste, custard cream, chocolate, and matcha cream are now common fillings in Japan. 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 this Japanese treat 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 THESE TAIYAKI CAKES?
I’m going to share my secret recipe for down below.
It’s not what you’d expect.
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!
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?
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.
A New Recipe for Taiyaki– Gluten-free, Grain-free, Low Carb
- taiyaki pan
- cooking chopsticks
- 3 whole eggs
- 22-25 whole almonds
- 3 tsp coconut flour heaping teaspoons
- 2 pinches sea salt
- 2 pinches black tea leaves optional
- 2-3 dashes cinnamon
- ½ banana
- 6-8 blueberries approximately
- 2-3 cherries or raspberries
- 5-7 macadamia nuts optional
- extra virgin coconut oil enough to coat the top and bottom of pan with a thin layer
- Chop almonds into a powder.
- Put the chopped almonds, coconut flour, and salt in a bowl. Mix.
- Add dashes of cinnamon and black tea leaves (optional)
- Add eggs and mix until smooth with a fork or whisk.
- Set bowl of batter aside.
- Thinly slice banana or dice until becomes "mush".
- Wash cherries and slice into halves or thirds.
- Wash blueberries and keep whole.
- Holding paper towel with cooking chopsticks or fingers, coat the fish molds (bottom inside and top inside) with coconut oil.
- Place taiyaki pan on gas stove. Turn on stove to low or medium heat.
- Once the coconut oil has melted, pour batter to fill the bottom two fish molds up to the edge.
- Using chopsticks or spoon, spread batter so the entire fish mold is covered, especially the head, tail, and fins.
- Using a spoon, put fruit fillings on top of the batter.
- Pour a thin layer of batter on top of the fruit filling.
- Close the taiyaki pan tightly and latch the handles together with the hook.
- After about 2 minutes, turn the taiyaki pan over (180 degree).
- Open the pan to check if the bottom of the "fish" is golden brown.
- If not yet golden brown, close pan, flip it back over, and repeat this process as needed.
- Once it's ready, cook the opposite side of the "fish" until golden brown.
- Open the taiyaki pan, and flip upside down. The fish should stick to the top inside of the pan.
- Gently use a toothpick or chopsticks to carefully remove taiyaki from the pan.
- Place taiyaki on a drying rack or plate.
- Use cooking scissors to cut off any excess batter from the edges of taiyaki.
- Serve warm.
If you liked this healthy recipe, you may be interested in these ones as well:
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TRADITIONAL TAIYAKI?
Check out out these recipes for taiyaki and anko filling on three of my favorite Japanese food blogs:
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. What's the best way to eat taiyaki?
In general, there are two schools of taiyaki-eaters. There are those who believe it's better to eat the tail first. And there's those who believe it's better to start from the head. Which are you?
2. What is taiyaki batter made of?
Traditional taiyaki are made of batter similar to pancake or waffle batter. The typical batter ingredients are all-purpose flour, sugar, water, milk, egg, and baking powder. The batter is modified depending on if you want a crispy exterior or a soft and fluffy texture throughout.
My new recipe is gluten-free so it's not wheat flour based. I used eggs, almonds, coconut flour, sea salt, black tea leaves (optional) and cinnamon (optional).
3. Can you find taiyaki at Japanese supermarkets?
In Tokyo, I don't ever remember seeing taiyaki at the supermarket, only in the basement of department stores. In the countryside, I remember seeing taiyaki at some supermarkets. There would be a taiyaki specialty shop near one of the entrances.
Overseas, there is a good chance that you'll find a taiyaki stand near a Japanese supermarket, especially in major cities like L.A. and New York.
4. Do I need a special taiyaki shape pan or can I use a regular waffle iron?
Yes, you will need to buy a taiyaki pan. The good thing is that you can easily find one on Amazon for a reasonable price.
5. What is the best filling for taiyaki?
It's really up to your personal preferences. A traditionalist would say sweet adzuki beans. But you can use the filling of your choice. Not everyone is a fan of adzuki beans (sweet red bean filling). For me, it took a few years to acquire the taste.
My mission was to make these taiyaki with no added sugar so I decided to go with a fruit filling, which I've never seen before in Japan.
“Don’t play with your food!” echoes in my mind from the voices of adults and teachers from the past. Back then, I followed the rules.
Since then I’ve grown up. 42 years later, I find myself going back to where I left off as a child…
Now, when I hear voices that aren’t my own, I know which ideas should be listened to openly…
and then politely ignored.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Imagination encircles the world.”– Albert Einstein