You’ll be tempted to try it because it’s a hard-to-get flavor, but tasting this delectable treat comes with a price.

Omusubi Gonbei is a restaurant known for its rice balls, which are called “onigiri” or “omusubi” in Japanese. The restaurant has a major presence in the Kanto area; so much so that if you ask a Tokyoite where to get rice balls, Omusubi Gonbei will often be their first suggestion.

But did you know that a small number of their restaurants also sell taiyaki, the fish-shaped, stuffed snack that can be either savory or sweet? Our Japanese-language reporter Yuuichiro Wasai only just found this out himself by accident when looking at the restaurant’s website. Naturally, that meant he had to go to one of those branches and try one. But now that he’s been and gone, there is something he has to warn you about–just in case you fall into the same trap he did.

Omusubi Gonbei isn’t as prevalent in Tokyo as, say, Starbucks or McDonald’s, but Yuuichiro had the impression that it has about the same number of branches as Lotteria; a good amount scattered fairly evenly throughout the city, but not on every corner block. In fact, when he looked it up, it turned out that both Omusubi Gonbei and Lotteria currently have about 40 branches in Tokyo.

Among those, there are just two Omusubi Gonbei branches that sell taiyaki: the Seibu Shinjuku Pepe branch, which is near our office, and the Frente Sengawa branch, which is just west of the city center.

Yuuichiro went to the Seibu Shinjuku Pepe branch. They had a sign for the taiyaki in the window that was both reassuring and surprising. The “Hokkaido Tsubuan” taiyaki (150 yen [US$1.03]), shown at the top of the ad stuffed with red bean paste from Hokkaido, was expected, but Yuuichiro was surprised to see they also had a “Mentai Jaga Cheese” taiyaki (170 yen), which had a filling of spicy cod roe, potatoes, and cheese.

Red bean paste is the most common and traditional filling, but he had never heard of Mentai Jaga Cheese flavor before. It was almost as unusual as okonomiyaki-flavored taiyaki! He almost had to doubt that it was even legit, but he could practically hear the snack saying, “Yeah, I’m a taiyaki, too. You got a problem with that? In fact, I’m not just a taiyaki, I’m a Gonbei-yaki, an original sweet from Omusubi Gonbei. If I seem weird to you it’s because you’re constrained by your concept of taiyaki, and you don’t understand the concept of ‘Gonbei-yaki.'”

Yuuichiro felt challenged by the taiyaki’s–or rather, the Gonbei-yaki’s confrontational tone, so he decided to order it alongside the red bean variety. Besides, when he Googled it, he also learned that the Mentai Jaga Cheese taiyaki is a pretty rare menu item, so he really had no choice but to try it. For journalism purposes, of course.

By ordering both a sweet and savory variety, Yuuichiro realized he’d soon be falling into an infinite loop of sweet and salty. And when his taste test finally commenced, he couldn’t stop taking alternating bites of each one! He could probably eat ten of these in seconds. A bite of salty, a bite of sweet, a bite of salty, a bite of sweet…

The Hokkaido Tsubuan, which was what he originally intended to eat, was slightly different from other taiyaki in that it was crispier, apparently because its batter is made with rice flour. Even so, it was just as delicious as an ordinary, soft taiyaki. It was a bit smaller, but worth it for the unique texture. And the red bean paste was stuffed in, even to the tail, which is unusual!

However, where that crispy batter came in clutch was in the Mentai Jaga Cheese taiyaki. It brought it to a completely different level, well past ordinary to “unbelievably delicious!”

In other words, whether or not you become addicted to Omusubi Gonbei’s taiyaki depends on whether you order their Mentai Jaga Cheese flavor. And it’s easy to order one on a whim, because who can resist a limited-edition flavor? Ergo, the Mentai Jaga Cheese presents a clear and present danger for being irresistibly delicious, and Yuuichiro now understands why they only sell them at select stores: to limit the damage done to society.

“Hats off to Omusubi Donbei!!” That’s what Yuuichiro thought as he tumbled into the pit of cheesy, spicy potato taiyaki bliss.

Images © SoraNews24
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