Musashibō Benkei- a key hero in Japanese folklore and a warrior monk of great prowess- is rumoured to be instrumental in the creation of one of the country’s most popular street foods, the dorayaki.  Hiding from one of his many foes in a farmer’s house while he recovered from wounds inflicted upon him, he accidentally left his ceremonial gong behind upon leaving the dwelling.  The farmer searched for the hero near and far, but to no avail, and not knowing what the object was used for, he placed the gong in a fire and fried little round pancakes on the metal surface.  Wrapping the sweet, hot discs around a ball of mashed red beans the treat was born, albeit in a far more fanciful way than the reality of them being based on a Portuguese sponge cake recipe.  However you choose to believe they came about, these little gong cakes have become an icon of Japanese cuisine, thanks in part to them being the favoured food of a futuristic robotic cat called Doraemon from the manga of the same name.

Fluffy sponge discs, warmly fragrant with honey and faintly scented with sweet mirin wine, sandwiched around a smooth filling of pureed azuki beans, dorayaki were our first encounter with street food in Japan and helped spark our obsession with recreating the flavours of the country.  The ubiquitous little cakes can be bought in nearly every convenience store or bakery, from vendors on street corners and festival markets, even from kiosks on railway station platforms, and now hopefully you’ll try making them at home too.  After you’ve perfected cooking your own dorayaki, try experimenting with other traditional fillings such as custard, mashed chestnuts, sweetened whipped cream or the strangely comforting margarine and maple syrup- the last one greatly inspired by the American breakfast staple.


Dorayaki- a robot cat’s favourite treat!


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Shiro-an Taiyaki

Of all of the varieties of pancake available in Japan, the fish-shaped taiyaki sold by street vendors are the ones we’re always drawn to.  A sweet, tender waffley outer shell, hiding its scalding hot filling of red bean paste or on rare occasions custard or white beans.  Historically they came about as a seasonal variation of imagawayaki during the Meiji era, changing the squat cylindrical mould into one shaped like a sea-bream, a fish that only the wealthy could afford and that was generally reserved for festivals.  The anko (red bean) filling is slightly off-putting to many westerners, so we’ve opted for the milder, smoother shiro-an (white bean) filling which has a soft marzipan texture to it and a slightly nutty taste.

To make taiyaki you’ll need a cast-iron taiyaki pan, if you don’t have one then you can use the same recipe to make shiro-an dorayaki- just fry the batter as small round pancakes and sandwich the filling between them.

Taiyaki, sea-bream shaped pancakes filled with sweetened white bean paste.

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