Taiyaki is a sweet, fish-shaped Japanese snack. It's made from a batter similar to pancake batter and commonly filled with red bean paste or custard. It's only been around for about 100 years, but it holds a special place in people's hearts. And as a food that hasn't caught on abroad, it can truly be called a Japanese specialty.
Happy Golden Taiyaki is a national chain that started in Kobe. They have many stores across the whole of Japan, but the 2 in Sendai are the only ones in the whole of the Tohoku region. The most conveniently located one is behind Sendai City Hall, just a few minutes' walk from Kotodai-koen subway station.
Although it can be seen from the main road, it doesn't stand out from a distance. It's very small, with only just enough room for a couple of customers at once. There are a couple of benches to sit on while you eat your purchase though.
Being small, there's only one staff member, which for me meant a short wait while they were taking a break. I was glad I had time to decide what to order, though, because for a small shop there's a great selection of both hot and cold taiyaki.
My first choice was a cold taiyaki filled with custard and sweet potato. Happy Golden Taiyaki uses a particular variety of sweet potato called Annou Imo, sourced from one island in Kagoshima prefecture. They are grown using organic fertilizer and carefully stored. These sweet potatoes are used in most of the taiyaki and is the origin of the name, because of their golden color.
The taiyaki wasn't much to look at, being both smaller and flatter than I was used to. But with the first bite the appearance was forgotten in the full flavor. The creamy custard balanced the more grainy potato, which gave it a wonderful natural sweetness.
I also tried the croissant taiyaki. I went into it with a bit of trepidation, having tried and disliked a croissant taiyaki before. However, this one wasn't at all crunchy. It might not pass a croissant connoisseur, but the unique texture is a welcome variation on the traditional taiyaki. Out of the two flavors, red bean and chocolate, I chose the latter and wasn't disappointed. It was rich and sweet and everything a chocolate-lover could hope for.
The prices are very good considering the quality and specialty of the taiyaki here. It's well worth the walk for a unique taiyaki experience. If you are against large, national chains or just want somewhere slightly easier to access, try Usuagawa Taiyaki Taikichi.