By Laura Welch
Sendai is paradise for a food lover. There are many local foods, from beef tongue to the sweet soy bean paste called zunda. Like any big city, many of the well-known chain restaurants can be found here, but the surprising thing is the number of small, specialty shops that also thrive.
Usugawa Taiyaki Taikichi is one of these. The name of the store means “Thin-skin taiyaki, Taikichi” (Taikichi in turn might refer to an enthusiasm for taiyaki). Obviously, they specialize in taiyaki, the fish-shaped, hand-held treat that has become one of Japan's iconic foods. They now have five stores, one recently opened in Tokyo. In Sendai, the more convenient are the ones near Sendai Station and in the Mitsukoshi department store, but the biggest and best is the main store.
It's definitely popular – on busy days people will queue out into the street – and it's no wonder. The taiyaki are freshly-made using quality ingredients and the wide selection of fillings can be enjoyed free of large amounts of stodgy batter. While you're waiting (which won't be long), you can watch the practiced skill of the kitchen staff as they work constantly to meet customer demand. Standing in the queue also gives you the opportunity to choose a flavor (or two!).
Alongside the universal staples of red bean paste (made from Hokkaido-grown beans) and custard, they also offer the Sendai staple of zunda. As with many sweet snacks in Japan, there is a focus on seasonal ingredients, for example chocolate and strawberry in winter, sakura in spring and sweet potato, chestnut and pumpkin in autumn. There are both hot and cold options, both suitable for take-out (the hot ones are best re-heated).
Another great feature of the store is the ¥100 and ¥130 specials. These are limited edition flavors that change more or less weekly. I've had sweet ones like Jersey milk cream, apple custard and black sesame, as well as more savory ones like curry, chicken, stew and kamaboko (fish cake) with cheese! The only one I've not liked was because of personal preference - they're all delicious!
The store is open from 10:30 until 19:30, unless the batter runs out first. So don't get there too late or you'll miss out!
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