Taiyaki is a Japanese cake that is normally filled with red bean paste and cooked in a special fish-shaped pan. When completed, because of the pan, the final cake looks like a detailed fish. While the food itself is called taiyaki, the fish-shaped mold in which it is created is called a taiyaki-ki. The name means "baked sea bream," despite the fact that the cake does not contain any fish. The food is similar to a Korean snack known as bungeoppang that also is a fish-shaped cake filled with red bean paste.
The normal batter used for taiyaki is similar, if not the same, as waffle or pancake batter used in the United States and other countries. It is a mixture of flour, baking soda, salt and some sugar. The loose batter is necessary to capture the fishy details of the pan during baking.
The standard filling for taiyaki is a very sweet red bean paste, also called azuki bean paste. Red beans are boiled in a pan along with sugar. Once the beans are very soft and the sugar has reduced into a thick syrup, the entire mixture is mashed down into a paste. This paste can be cooked again to change the texture or can be used as is. Azuki bean paste is utilized in many East Asian pastries.
Although red bean paste is the traditional filling, the popularity of the treat has led vendors and chefs to explore other options. For a sweet cake, ingredients such as chocolate can be cooked inside. Custard, fruit and cream fillings are common. Some foreign influences, such as hazelnut spread, also have found their way inside the pastry.
A taiyaki also can contain a number of savory fillings. These can range from Chinese sausages to bacon. Other fillings, such as potatoes and vegetables, also can be found. The savory variety also comes in a variety of flavors that are meant to emulate popular fast-food dishes, such as pizza and cheeseburgers.
The taiyaki-ki is normally a cast iron device much like a waffle iron. It consists of two plates with a hollowed out area in the center, each side molded to create a fish impression on whatever is poured into it. The device is filled with the batter and ingredients, closed and then cooked over an open fire until done. More industrialized shops and vendors use metal molds that can cook several taiyaki at a time.