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  • Writer's pictureThe Linguistic Foodie

Taiyaki たい焼き: What's up with this fishy sensation?

Taiyaki--Japanese fish shaped cakes--have been becoming popular in the states. People post Instagram photos of their pastry fish piled high with Macha flavored ice cream and pretty toppings. In big cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston, Taiyaki places are opening and many wait in long lines to get a taste of these Japanese treats.

Taiyaki aren't traditionally used as ice cream cones, however. Commonly sold as street food in Japan, Tayaki are usually served warm with azuki red bean paste filling あずきあん. Other common fillings include custard, chocolate, and sweet potato. These sweet treats are named after and resemble the red sea bream fish ( tai 鯛). Therefore Taiyaki is named after tai 鯛 and yaki 焼き which can mean fried, baked, or grilled (Taiyaki literally means fried fish). Tai is a very important fish in Japanese culture, as it is the country's most prized seafood. It is not unusual to see pictures of tai outside shrines or temples in Japan. Dating back to the Edo period 100 years ago, Taiyaki is commonly served at weddings as a thank you to the guests (Taiyaki are a symbol of celebration and love). I remember when I was in Japan, wandering through the markets, I came across a Taiyaki stand. Intrigued, I picked one up for myself and I immediately fell in love with it!

A Taiyaki stand in Japan

Not only is Taiyaki delicious, but it also has a very symbolic and important meaning in Japan. The word tai is similar to the word medetai めでたい which in Japanese means prosperous and happy. Therefore, Taiyaki is said to bring luck and happiness. Just like Sakura 桜, Taiyaki has symbolic meanings that are very important to Japanese culture and traditions.



Unicorn Taiyaki from Taiyaki NYC

In America, Taiyaki has become more extravagant and swayed away from its simple forms. Taiyaki places in the states will fill their Taiyaki pastries with nutella and then use them as ice cream cones to put a generous portion of custard on top. Then, there is always the option to add toppings like Oreo crumbs or chocolate sauce. Some places I have seen have even made their Taiyaki concoction look like a unicorn!


One thing Taiyaki can do for us is teach us about the Japanese language. Japan is a relatively homogenous society so it's hard to get by without knowing Japanese. Japanese is part of its own language family and uses a combination of the hiragana, kanji, and katakana alphabets. Many Americans have had exposure to Japanese due to the rise of Anime, but I am sure many don't know about the minority languages in Japan. Japan has eight endangered languages which include Ainu, Hachijō, Amami, Kunigami, Okinawan, Miyako, Yaeyama, and Yonaguni. These are traditional languages that are in danger. Because these languages are dying, traditional Japanese cultures and societies are in danger of extinction as well. All of these languages are under threat of the overpowering Japanese language that Japanese citizens are forced to learn. Learn more about Japan's endangered languages from this article: https://globalvoices.org/2014/03/01/japans-endangered-languages-still-considered-mere-dialects/.


So the next time you see a Taiyaki place, don't hesitate to indulge in this treat and maybe you will have some luck and prosperity in your future! And if you ever visit Japan, make sure to visit a Taiyaki street food stand and in addition to learning a few words in Japanese, also try to learn a few words in Ainu or Okinawan too!


さよなら

-The Linguistic Foodie :)


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