Win with a Tai (yaki)
Cause for Celebration
Tai, or sea bream, is a fish often used in Japan to celebrate something. The reason is because the sound is part of the word, "medetai," that indicates a cause for celebration. The winners of sumo tournaments, for example, celebrate by carrying a large tai, presumably to be consumed at the feast which is sure to ensue.
But a celebration could also be marked by a gift of taiyaki, or literally grilled tai. But rather than the fish itself, taiyaki is merely a traditional sweet that is in the shape of a tai.
Many Shapes, Sizes, and Flavors
Taiyaki come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors. The traditional taiyaki is filled with red bean paste - anko made with azuki beans. The beans are common in many different Japanese sweets. But nearly as common as azuki is cream, usually a custard cream that uses a lot of eggs and is similar to pudding.
Many taiyaki establishments also make a range of flavors that celebrate the seasons, including beni-imo (sweet potato), kuri (chestnut), and at top left in the photo above, momo cream (peach cream). Green tea and chocolate are also common.
The photo on the right side shows a new form of taiyaki - croissant taiyaki - that is crispy and chewy, that is an aptly named cross between the two. The azuki beans are cooked inside the pie crust itself. This one is also green tea flavored.
The Fish is on the Grill
Taiyaki is made on a special grill. Often, the vendors make and sell their pastries in a food stall, at various kinds of celebratory events, including natsu matsuri (summer festivals). The taiyaki is one of the more popular treats, because it is tasty, inexpensive, and easy to eat.
Taiyaki are as ubiquitous as another similar snack food - tako yaki - although the grilled octopus pastry is not sweet and is more of a food than a snack item. Many stands have their unique qualities, including regional differences, so look out for the grilled fish and - Celebrate!