Taiyaki, also known as fish cone ice cream, is increasingly becoming a popular food trend in the US.
If you aren't familiar with what taiyaki is, it is a common Japanese delight made from waffle or pancake batter cooked in a fish-shaped mold. These fish-shaped cakes are often filled with sweet red bean paste or custard. It's very popular in foodcourts, markets, and festivals in Japan.
Some dessert spots are putting a spin on the popular taiyaki dessert by using the taiyaki as an ice cream cone. A lot of the ice cream flavors are also inspired by Japan and include matcha green tea and black sesame.
Some of the most popular taiyaki ice cream places blowing up on Instagram are located on both coasts: Uji Time in Berkeley, California and Taiyaki NYC in New York City.
I had the pleasure of visiting both.
2525 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA
Uji Time is named after Uji, which is a city near Kyoto, Japan that served as a major distribution point for green tea.
Uji Time offers matcha green tea, black sesame, and tofu flavored ice cream. You are allowed to get two flavors in your taiyaki cone, but I opted for black sesame only since I've had matcha green tea ice cream plenty of times before. Next time I really want to try their tofu-flavored ice cream because that sounds really exotic!
The black sesame ice cream as you can see, matched the store's wall! Contrary to some people's expectations, black sesame ice cream is in fact not actually black, but closer to a stone grey color. Uji Time did not offer any additional toppings. Each cone does come with a paper holder, but I removed it for this picture so you could better see the fish cone details.
When I tasted the black sesame ice cream, I was actually somewhat disappointed. The black sesame flavor was extremely subtle even for the most sensitive palate. The ice cream had a dominating vanilla flavor, perhaps not to alienate customers from this exotic flavor. In retrospect, I wish I had also tried the matcha green tea ice cream at Uji Time so I could report whether that flavor had a strong matcha taste or not. Still I was able to to consume all the ice cream on the top until I reached the actual taiyaki cone. I was most curious to see how the taiyaki would taste since traditional taiyaki is quite soft. Most ice cream cones are hard so they are sturdy enough to hold the ice cream. The cone did have a slight crispy outer edge but the inside was soft like a waffle. It was delicious! If you make it down to the bottom of the cone, there is red bean paste at the bottom. This may be too much sugar for some people but I really enjoyed it.
119 Baxter St
Taiyaki NYC is a very small shop near Little Italy. If you blink you might miss it. If you haven't seen its beautiful creations on Instagram, you are definitely living under a rock.
Taiyaki NYC offers vanilla, chocolate, matcha, and black sesame-flavored ice cream. I decided to be adventurous and order both matcha and black sesame ice cream swirled together. You can choose between red bean or custard filling and I opted for red bean. Unlike Uji Time, Taiyaki NYC allows you to choose a drizzle (caramel, condensed milk, chocolate, strawberry) and 2 toppings (chocolate sprinkles, mini M&Ms, wafer, graham cracker crumbs, mochi, rainbow sprinkles, chocolate powder, crushed Oreos, strawberry). For my toppings, I chose condensed milk drizzle (because I've never tried it before), mochi (it comes in pretty pastel colors), and rainbow sprinkles (also very photogenic). My friend got the same ice cream combination plus chocolate drizzle, crushed Oreos and mochi.
I forgot to remove the paper holders on the bottom! I must say compared to Uji Time, the fish cones were prettier and the ice cream overall was prettier due to the toppings. I tasted the ice cream and both flavors were strong. The black sesame ice cream actually tasted like black sesame and not vanilla. The matcha green tea ice cream was equally flavorful and delicious. The mochi was a cute touch. So many people were crammed in this tiny shop taking photos and enjoying their ice cream. This was by far one of my all time favorite dessert spots from NYC and I wished Uji Time, which is closer to me, was just as good.
Uji Time is definitely delicious and has potential. If they only offered cute toppings! Maybe some day in the future they will add that to their selection. I admit, unless you're a pro Instagrammer, it's very difficult to hold the ice cream with all the toppings without fear of dropping it! So take heed and definitely be careful when you're trying to photograph this... I've definitely dropped ice cream in the past.