Taiyaki NYC | Chinatown
I turned left out of Ferrara Bakery and Cafe, going down Mulberry Street. Mulberry Street was restaurant central. Just like in Italy, these restaurants had outdoor patio sets. Waiters from the restaurants stood on the sidewalk with menus — marketing to people on the sidewalk as they passed by.
For the most part, they ignored me as I balanced my Ferrara bag with my leftover lobster tail, sipping my now-melted affogato as I walked.
I felt at home among the brick buildings. The outdoor patios were inviting. Each patio set was different. Some had candle centerpieces, others had lanterns or were fenced in with a wall of plants. The sides of the buildings were covered with street art (my favorite!).
I could easily find myself at one of those tables, but instead, I continued down the street to Taiyaki.
I stopped once to go into the Christmas in New York shop. Christmas is one of my favorite holidays and I always stop into Christmas shops — like the one in Lake George. I perused the nutcrackers and color-coded displays. What was strange is that the ornaments in this store were one's that I've seen in the dollar store, but here they were charging $10 each, so I didn't buy anything.
I exited back onto Mulberry Street (noting Umbertos Clam House) before turning right onto Hester Street and left onto Baxter Street. There it was — Taiyaki NYC, a wooden and glass store front that I easily could've walked past.
Taiyaki NYC | History
As found on their website, Taiyaki translates to “fried fish.”
The first part of their name, “Tai” (also known as sea bream) — refers to Japan’s highly prized seafood. This popular fish is used as a symbol in Japan. Fish-shaped pastries are often symbolic of happiness and given at weddings and festivals.
“Yaki” means “to fry.” Thus, by combining the two words — the fish-shaped ice cream cone was named.
A Foodie’s Dream
I first heard about Taiyaki from their amazing Instagram page. I’ve been following their page for years, and have seen as they expanded their locations and menu.
I was excited to finally get to try the taiyaki! I was surprised that there was no line in or around the shop. I was glad it was the middle of the afternoon, as I imagine that it is packed on the weekends.
Minimalist Design | Taiyaki Interior
Taiyaki was larger than Milk Bar Chelsea. Most of the space was the kitchen/ice cream machines which you could see from the front counter.
The glass front window with the Taiyaki logo let in the afternoon sun. A mother, father, and small daughter sat on the bench-seat eating their taiyaki cones. An older couple with their son (who looked about my age), stood in the center of the room looking up at the menu. They spoke in a language I couldn’t identify.
The menu was beautiful — illustrated with pictures and lists so it was clear to understand. It hung like an awning across the back wall separating the counter from the kitchen.
The menu offered a pre-designed taiyaki or you could create a custom one, by selecting the cone filling, ice cream flavor, toppings, and add-ons.
I had no idea what I wanted. I was vaguely familiar with the flavors offered at Taiyaki NYC.
I’m pretty basic when it comes to ice cream flavors. If I ever get ice cream, I order a vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles. Which is why when it was my turn to order, I selected the unicorn taiyaki.
This is a taiyaki cone with red bean filling, vanilla ice cream, sprinkles, and the edible unicorn decorations. It is a pre-designed taiyaki flavor. If I wanted to build a custom one, I could’ve added cookie straws, candy skewers, and more. I’m not a huge fan of those sweets anyway, so the unicorn taiyaki was a happy medium.
I also ordered another red bean taiyaki to see what it tasted like without the ice cream.
There was a delay between my ice cream cone and the taiyaki arriving. I balanced my unicorn taiyaki in front of the white brick wall for a photo. I was worried about the lop-sided ice cream falling onto the floor.
“You should eat it before it melts,” the young man said to me.
I need a picture for the ‘gram, man. I thought. The photo against the white brick wasn’t doing my unicorn cone justice.
“I’m waiting for my other pastry.” I said.
His mother and father received their cones. It looked like they ordered chocolate and matcha. They exited out onto the sidewalk as I was handed my second taiyaki, warm and in a parchment sleeve.
My ice cream flavor was creamy vanilla soft-serve, so unfortunately nothing innovative on the flavor-front. In hindsight, I should’ve ordered a swirl — maybe of vanilla and matcha, as matcha has a bitterness to it.
The son with his parents were standing on the sidewalk not far from me. They laughed as I took this photo.
“What flavor did you get?” He shouted.
“Good — ours tastes like shrimp.”
Shrimp? I thought. Would the matcha flavor create that impression? The parents weren’t eating their cones. I wondered if they would go back inside and get a new one.
The cashier behind the counter was friendly and bubbly, so I imagine he would’ve made them a new one. After hearing their thoughts, I was glad I ordered the basic vanilla.
The sprinkles were mostly for texture and aesthetic. The yellow star sprinkles were crunchy.
The unicorn details might’ve been made of fondant. They had a texture like candy corn and were not as sugary as I expected. The unicorn horn was also made of the same ingredients and it was painted with glittery gold edible food coloring. When I took it out of the cone to eat it, I got the gold color all over my fingers like it was highlighter.
The Taiyaki Cone
The taiyaki was the best part. The red taiyaki outline on the ice cream sleeve was a perfect match to the actual cone. I’m sorry I didn’t take a photo of the taiyaki out of its sleeve so you could see the whole fish-shape. It was adorable.
The taiyaki cone was short and had a funnel shape. The mouth of the fish was wide to hold the ice cream. I didn’t see if my taiyaki was made to order, but it was warm and I could feel its heat through the paper sleeve. Luckily, it didn’t melt my ice cream as I walked through Little Italy.
I was worried about dropping the ice cream on the ground. I wanted to taste the texture of the cone before it cooled down. So I used the paper sleeve and flipped the ice cream cone upside down. My ice cream fell out perfectly into the paper sleeve. I was left with the open-mouthed taiyaki which I dipped into the ice cream and ate little-by-little.
The cone was fresh and tasted like a Belgium waffle. The exterior was crisp (but not crunchy), while the interior did have a fluffy texture. My cone had red bean paste in its tail instead of custard.
Because I was pushing my luck with the dairy
I thought red bean paste would be a more authentic flavor combination with the taiyaki
Red bean paste is surprising because it is sweet. Its texture is smooth and dense. My taiyaki had a generous filling, like a donut, at the middle-bottom of the tail.
The Traditional Taiyaki
I folded the other taiyaki in its paper sleeve to eat later. It was cold by the time I had it and I did not like the soggy, greasy texture. These are best eaten right after you order them — though their shapes allow for easy transport as a tourist, they do not taste as good hours later.
I suppose if I re-heated it in a convection oven, maybe it would’ve crisped back up, but in the end, I picked it apart and threw it away. This taiyaki also had the red bean paste filling, which I enjoyed. Next time I will see how it tastes with the custard filling.
Back to 34th Street
I walked all the way back up to 34th Street. People admired my ice cream as I walked.
I stopped at Alabaster Books on my way back. The store was just as small as Taiyaki and jammed floor to ceiling with books. The shelves were characterized by genre with stacks lining the floors and on chairs.
A skinny man with a beard and tweed jacket sat behind the front desk. Next to him, wooden crates held older books in Ziploc bags. A girl in a high school varsity jacket asked if he had a certain type of poetry collection. She said she gives them to her friends as gifts.
I didn’t buy anything (though I did eye-up a copy of The Great Gatsby). I exited back onto 4th Ave. I was going to stop at the apartment and drop off my Ferrara leftovers before visiting a museum.
I would easily give Taiyaki NYC a 10/10. Their branding and presentation are to die for. I love the adorable taiyaki cones and the cultural significance behind the idea, design, and name.
I thought my warm taiyaki cone was delicious and my unicorn decorations were whimsical and insta-worthy.
I will return to Taiyaki NYC on the weekend to try their other traditional desserts.