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[Photograph: Carrie Vasios]

It's what I like to call the gummy candy rule: things taste better when shaped like adorable animals. And who knows that rule, apart from gummy candy makers? Well, almost all of Japan (case in point) but specifically bakers of taiyaki, the fish-shaped cakes you see above. Because this sweet is essentially just imagawayaki, (a type of red bean cake), but shaped like fish, which makes them oh, 200 times more awesome.

Taiyaki is made by pouring pancake or waffle batter into fish shaped molds. A sweet filling—usually red bean paste, but sometimes chocolate or custard—is placed inside, the mold is closed, the pancake baked, and voila: fish cakes!

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I bought these at Nijiya Market, which is a great one stop shop if your shopping list includes onigiri, Asian snacks, tea, and cheap-ass sushi grade fish, which, actually, mine often does. The package came with two large (we're talking 4-5 inch long) fish for $2.99. That's a bargain that made up for the fact that they were cold as opposed to hot, crisp, and golden, as good taiyaki ideally are coming straight out of the mold.

I wish I could say it was a deal breaker, but the truth is I still enjoyed the squishy pancake exterior and sweet red bean filling so much that I ate both in about 10 minutes. (Yes, even the tails which lack bean paste and are therefore decidedly inferior.) A chocolate pancake with chocolate filling and a white pancake with white chocolate filling were also available.

Nijiya Market

1737 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115; (map);
(415) 563-1901

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