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Maybe you’ve noticed an adorable, fish-shaped pastry popping up on Insta feeds everywhere. Us too. We’re big fans of taiyaki. In Japanese, that means “cooked sea bream.” This snack, however, has no fish in it. It’s a soft, fluffy waffle shaped like a fish and it can be served solo or stuffed with fillings like red bean paste, Nutella or soft-serve ice cream.
Taiyaki comes from imagawayaki, a round Japanese pancake filled with sweet red bean paste. Imagawayaki has been a popular street food in Japan since the Edo period (aka the 1700s). Legend has it that an imagawayaki seller named Seijiro Kobe was struggling to compete in a crowded market and wanted to make his pancakes stand out, so, in 1909, he had the brilliant idea of making them look like fish. He didn’t pick any fish, he chose the sea bream (or “tai”), a symbol of fortune and good luck. It’s also an expensive fish. Taiyaki allowed the less wealthy populace to eat tai, sort of. It was a smart move. Kobe’s shop, Naniwaya Sohonten in Minato City, is still going strong after more than a century.
In Japan, the snack surged in popularity in the 1970s thanks to the children’s song “Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun.” The title means “Swim! Taiyaki-kun” and tells the story of a taiyaki who was tired of being cooked on a hot plate every day and swam out to sea. Alas, he was caught and eaten by a fisherman at the end. We’re not sure if that’s a happy ending but the song is still the best-selling single in Japan.
During the Japanese colonial period, from 1910 to 1945, taiyaki swam to Korea, where it became known as bungeo-ppang or boong-uh-bbang (bung-eo means crucian carp and ppang means bread). In Korea, people made bungeo-ppang using molds shaped like carp instead of a sea bream. As various molds have become popular, the difference in shape between the two has become less distinct. (In Japan, Pokemon fans can get Magikarp shaped taiyaki.) Both taiyaki and bungeo-ppang are typically sold from street carts, often during festivals. They are especially popular in the winter when they’re crammed with piping hot red beans.
In recent years, Nutella and custard have also become popular fillings. At Korean grocery stores, you can even get bungeo-ppang-inspired ice cream sandwiches called Samanco although they’re more wafer than waffle.
The treat, which made its way to the United States more than two decades ago, has made a splash in the last few years thanks, in large part, to two things: taiyaki ice cream cones and social media. The former look great on the latter. These taiyaki are large with a huge, open mouth, the better to hold colorful ice cream.
In Los Angeles, you’ll find no shortage of spots selling the snack, from small stands offering traditional red bean bungeo-ppang to dessert cafes making croissant taiyakis to soft-serve chains. Even Destroyer, chef Jordan Kahn’s fancy daytime café, has been known to offer seasonal taiyakis. Here are some of the best places to find it.
Classic Taiyaki & Bungeo-ppang
In the back of a Koreatown supermarket called HK Market, you’ll find the HK Chicken stand, an old school joint known for its fried chicken wings, roasted sweet potatoes and bungeo-ppang. HK Chicken only serves the red bean variety. While they’re not made to order, there’s enough turnover that you’ll usually get them while they’re warm. At $1.50 each, they’re a deal.
124 N. Western Ave., Koreatown.
The freshly made taiyaki (that’s what they call it on the menu) at this Koreatown shaved ice shop are larger and thicker than most, which means they hold more filling. While red bean is the classic, we’re partial to Anko’s Nutella banana taiyaki. You can choose up to two flavors per order and each order comes with four pieces so you may want to share.
400 S. Western Ave., Koreatown.
Kokoroll Cafe is a poke bowl and pokerrito joint with four locations around L.A., but it also serves made-to-order dessert taiyaki. The batter is light and crispy and the more adventurous can try one filled with cheddar cheese. With multiple locations, Kokoroll is a good spot for those who want to try taiyaki in neighborhoods that normally wouldn’t offer this pastry.
1819 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood.
214 E. Olive Ave., Burbank.
2265 Foothill Blvd., La Canada.
22749 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance.
Since Korean dessert shop Okrumong specializes in shaved ice and red bean desserts, it’s not surprising their bungeo-ppang filling is top-notch. Instead of the usual mashed red bean paste, you’ll find lightly sweetened whole red beans inside their fresh, chewy bungeo-ppang.
2814 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Torrance.
Miss Cheese Tea Cafe
Miss Cheese Tea Cafe in Pasadena is a boba cafe with everything from soufflé pancakes to popcorn chicken. For taiyaki, they offer three fillings: red beans, custard and Nutella. The taiyaki are on the smaller side, but they’re fresh and chewy.
238 S. Arroyo Pkwy., Pasadena.
Little Tokyo Taiyaki
Hidden between the parking garage and the marketplace at Little Tokyo Galleria you’ll find a small stand serving taiyaki and hotteok (Korean honey rice pancakes). Little Tokyo Taiyaki uses tapioca flour so their taiyaki have a particularly springy texture and the dough is lighter. The red bean filling isn’t overly sweet and it’s studded with whole beans. For those who want a sweeter option, try the apple mango jam or custard filling. The taiyaki are made to order and there’s usually a line so you will have to wait, but they’re worth it.
333 S. Alameda St., Little Tokyo.
Deli Manjoo is a dessert and snack stall inside of H Mart in Diamond Bar. The namesake manjooya refers to a corn-shaped pastry but many customers come for the taiyaki, which is called Lucky Fish on the menu. You can get mini taiyaki that are premade and prepackaged but it’s worth the few minutes wait to get the large ones that are made fresh. The taiyaki batter here also contains tapioca flour, which adds to the chewy texture.
2825 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar.
The Brothers Sushi
A sushi restaurant may not be the first place you look to find street food like taiyaki but The Brothers Sushi has a good version on their dessert menu if you want your taiyaki gussied up. The taiyaki here is also quickly fried after leaving the hot iron. The dough is crisp yet chewy on the inside, and it’s served with ice cream and fresh fruit.
21418 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.
Gozen Express, a food truck that serves casual Japanese fare such as chicken karaage and onigiri, recently added fried taiyaki as its sole dessert. The only filling is red bean and the taiyaki is deep fried for extra crispiness.
Locations change daily; check Instagram for the latest updates.
Taiyaki + Ice Cream
As ‘grammable taiyaki soft serve ice cream cones go, Somi Somi is the spot. The fish cone is called Ah-boong (from “boong-uh” in boong-uh-bbang) and it can be lined with Nutella, custard or taro before it’s either filled with ice cream or plopped on top of a cup of swirled, soft-serve in one of 11 flavors (we recommend ube, both for flavor and maximum visual appeal). You can add toppings like crumbled Oreos, rainbow sprinkles and Fruity Pebbles. The cones are made in small batches throughout the day and have a great texture that holds up to the ice cream. Due to COVID-19 regulations, the ice cream is now served in a cup with the taiyaki placed on top.
11311 Mississippi Ave., West L.A.
322 E. 2nd Street #A, Little Tokyo.
621 S. Western Ave., Ste 208-A, Koreatown.
1456 3rd Street Promenade Santa Monica.
1157 Glendale Galleria, Ste. C005 Glendale.
21712 Hawthorne Blvd,, K129, Torrance.
3900 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach.
7777 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach.
305 N. Harbor Blvd., #107, Fullerton.
2700 Alton Pkwy Ste 125, Irvine.
640 Spectrum Center Dr., Irvine.
Gindaco is the largest takoyaki chain in Japan where it also has a sister dessert chain, Gin No An, known for its croissant taiyaki. Lucky for us, Gindaco in Gardena also carries these croissant taiyaki, which are made with laminated croissant dough and sprinkled with sugar before going into the hot iron. The result is a crunchy dessert reminiscent of a palmier. There are only two flavor options here, nutella or azuki (red beans).
3760 S. Centinela Ave., Mar Vista.
1740 Artesia Blvd., Gardena.
MuMu Bakery Cafe
MuMu Bakery Cafe, a cute Koreatown cafe, specializes in croissant taiyaki sprinkled with sugar and it has perhaps the widest (and wildest) variety of fillings. On top of the standard sweet options, you can get mochi or brown sugar seeds (with various nuts). You can also try a savory pizza croissant taiyaki filled with tomato sauce, corn, cheese and pepperoni. It’s a combo that works. You’ll find seasonal flavors, too, like sweet potato and hot dog.
3109 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown.
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