One of the most fun parts of traveling abroad is experiencing unique local foods. And when it comes to unique desserts, Japan offers some of the most innovative and whimsical treats out there. Two of the most iconic are samanco soft serve ice cream and taiyaki cakes – both served in the shape of a fish!
In this blog, we’ll discuss the origins of these fishy desserts, do a side-by-side taste test, and look at why they’ve become so popular abroad. Grab your sweet tooth and let’s dive in!
What is Samanco and How is it Made?
Samanco soft serve originated in Japan in the 1950s and is now found all over Asia. Here’s an overview:
- It’s a soft serve ice cream with a light, airy texture much like Dippin’ Dots.
- Samanco gets its signature fish shape from the special machines used to create it. The ice cream is squirted out through a fish-shaped mold as it freezes.
- The ice cream then slides down a chute and the fish shape is maintained.
- The most common flavors are vanilla, chocolate, and matcha green tea. But some shops offer unique flavors like black sesame, strawberry, and honeydew melon.
- Samanco is typically served in a paper cone, with the fish shape visible from the side. The tail is left open so you can enjoy the soft serve inside.
Now let’s look at taiyaki and how it compares.
What is Taiyaki and How Does it Compare?
Taiyaki is a classic Japanese fish-shaped cake filled with sweet bean paste. Here’s an overview:
- The cake batter is made from regular pancake or waffle ingredients like flour, eggs, sugar, and baking powder.
- It’s poured into special fish-shaped molds with a cavity in the center and cooked on each side like a waffle.
- Once cooked, the cakes are filled with anko – a sweet red bean paste – and the fish is closed up.
- Taiyaki is often vendor-sold from food carts and served warm. The warmthcontrasts nicely with the chilled anko filling.
- While samanco is soft serve ice cream, taiyaki is a warm, dense cake on the outside with an interior filling.
Now that we understand these distinctly fishy desserts, let’s do a side-by-side taste test!
Samanco vs. Taiyaki – A Taste Test
I had the chance to try both samanco and taiyaki from street vendors during my recent trip to Tokyo. Here’s my taste test comparison:
- Samanco: Extremely soft, airy, and melt-in-your-mouth. Almost custard-like.
- Taiyaki: The cake exterior is dense yet fluffy. It contrasts nicely with the smooth, sweet bean paste interior.
- Samanco: Very milky and subtly sweet. The vanilla flavor comes through beautifully.
- Taiyaki: The cake has a sweetness from the batter and griddle caramelization. The anko filling takes it over the top with intense bean flavor.
- Samanco: Bright white fish shape visible through the translucent cone. Whimsical and cute.
- Taiyaki: Gorgeous golden-brown fish exterior with cracked griddle marks. Fun presentation.
- Samanco: Portable and easy to eat on-the-go. Melts fast so you have to enjoy it quick!
- Taiyaki: The experience of eating warm cake and chilled filling at once is unique and fun. Less messy than ice cream.
Both are absolutely Instagram-worthy and delightful fishy treats with unique textures. It’s hard to pick a winner!
Why are These Fishy Desserts so Popular?
Samanco and taiyaki have spread far beyond just Japan in recent years. You can now find these whimsical fishy desserts all over Instagram and at vendors abroad. What makes them so popular?
- The cute fish shape makes them visually appealing and perfect for social media.
- The light, airy ice cream and fluffy cake are crowd-pleasers.
- The contrast of textures in taiyaki is innovative and fun to eat.
- Both are easily portable street food options.
- They represent a playful side of Japanese culture that people love.
- The fish shape holds cultural significance to Japan’s relationship with seafood.
- Foodies love trying unique international desserts when traveling.
So whether you prefer pillow-soft samanco or warm taiyaki, both of these fishy treats offer a fun, whimsical eating experience with cultural roots. No wonder they’ve caught on worldwide!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions about samanco and taiyaki:
- Can I make samanco or taiyaki at home?
Yes! There are samanco machines and taiyaki irons available to create them yourself.
- Where can I find these in the U.S.?
Check Asian grocery stores, night markets, and food festivals. Some specialty vendors at pier markets also carry them.
- Do they only come in fish shapes?
Traditionally yes, but some modern vendors are now offering samanco in flower or heart shapes too.
- Do they have to be eaten right away?
Samanco will melt fast since it’s soft serve. Taiyaki is also best consumed freshly cooked when the cakes are still warm.
- What are some popular flavor combinations?
Matcha green tea, chocolate Oreo, ube taro, black sesame, and matcha with azuki beans are common flavors.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with These Fishy Treats!
Samanco and taiyaki prove that just because a dessert is shaped like a fish, doesn’t mean it can’t be wonderful! With their airy-light and crispy- dense textures, you get an innovative eating experience that’s Insta-worthy. Next time you visit an Asian bakery or night market, be sure to get your hands on these uniquely Japanese fishy treats. Just watch out – they’re highly addictive!