We pick between two Japanese street foods that sound alike, but couldn’t be much more different.

The members of the SoraNews24 team come from various walks of life, but something we all have in common is that we pride ourselves on being deep thinkers, willing to ponder the biggest, most complex, and most important questions of human existence. As proof, look no further than our recent roundtable discussion in which we weighed in on the crucial debate of which is better, karaage (Japanese-stye fried chicken) or tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet).

But just as that debate was winding down, our ace reporter Mr. Sato posed another question, “Which is better, taiyaki or takoyaki?”

For the uninitiated, taiyaki is a pastry shaped like a sea bream (tai in Japanese). Despite looking like a fish, it’s a dessert, usually filled with anko (sweet red bean paste), although some taiyaki have custard or chocolate cream on the inside.

▼ Taiyaki

Takoyaki, on the other hand, are spherical octopus (tako in Japanese) dumplings, usually with a little green onion and ginger mixed into the batter and bonito flakes and seaweed powder sprinkled on top before being basted with a sweet sauce, and maybe a little mayo.

▼ Takoyaki

Since one is sweet and one is savory, taiyaki and takoyaki generally satisfy different cravings, and so they aren’t pitted against each other so often. They are both popular street food snacks baked in special molds to accommodate their distinct shapes, though, and both have names that consist of some sort of sea creature followed by yaki (which can mean cook, bake, grill, roast, or fry, depending on the context). So we decided to play along with Mr. Sato’s unexpected debate prompt, and here’s what our panel had to say.

P.K. Sanjun: Team Taiyaki

“Really, they’re both good, you know? If you were to just ask ‘Do you like them?’, I’d say ‘Yeah’ for both. But if I was in a situation where I had to pick just one, I’m pretty sure I’d choose taiyaki right away. I’ve got a sweet tooth, so I gotta go for the sweets. Plus, I have an impression that out of all the desserts out there, taiyaki is a relatively healthy one. I mean, anko is made of beans, right? So taiyaki is good from a weight control perspective too.”

Mr. Sato: Team Taiyaki

“I can’t really say why, but I’ve never been all that into takoyaki. Maybe it has something to do with there not being many takoyaki vendors in my neighborhood when I was growing up, but I never really find myself saying ‘Ah, man, I could really go for some takoyaki right now.’ But on the other hand, it’s normal for me to be thinking ‘Dude, I want some taiyaki.’ They’re just so good when the weather is cold, like it is right now, and you get one that’s fresh-baked and still warm. Having one warming your hands while you take bites and it heats you up from the inside, it’s practically the best thing in the world. So for me, good sir, make it taiyaki!”

Mariko Ohanabatake: Team Takoyaki

“This is honestly a really tough decision for me, because I like both of them. It’s kind of weird, because even though I don’t like octopus all that much, whenever I come across takoyaki, I end up buying some. I’d probably be just as happy with a takoyaki dumpling that had no octopus in it, but in any case, I buy a ton of takoyaki. 7-Eleven’s takoyaki is especially good, and I like how takoyaki is such a filling snack that you could make a meal out of it if you wanted to. Taiyaki is good too, but there are other anko desserts out there also, and maybe that’s why I don’t find myself choosing taiyaki specifically all that often.”

Go Hatori: Team Taiyaki

“I like takoyaki too, but if you’re making me pick one or the other, I think I’ve gotta go with taiyaki. Especially when you find really good taiyaki, it’s on a whole other level, and taiyaki in winter is just the best. The ones at the Tatsumiya taiyaki shop in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward are exquisite, and Naruto Taiyaki Honpo, which has branches all over Japan, is great too! By the way, I love having a glass of milk with my taiyaki!”

Masanuki Sunakoma: Team Takoyaki

“Taiyaki are sold individually, so after you eat one, they’re all gone. But at the same time, I don’t want to eat two or three of them in one go. You get a bunch of takoyaki in one order, though, so I feel like I can keep eating them forever. I think that’s why you hear about people having takoyaki cooking parties in their homes, but you don’t hear about taiyaki parties. So since they taste good and you get to eat a lot of them, I’m voting for takoyaki.”

Seiji Nakazawa: Team Taiyaki

I’m sick and tired of takoyaki. Yeah, I’m as surprised as anyone, since I grew up in Osaka [which is famous for takoyaki]. On the other hand, I’ve hardly bought any taiyaki in my life, so they still feel like an aspirational kind of snack to me. I want to become a person who buys a lot of taiyaki.”

Yuuichiro Wasai: Team Takoyaki

“Takoyaki, totally. Taiyaki is always just a snack, but you can make a meal out of takoyaki. I mean, takoyaki is my go-to lunch on Saturdays. There’s just no comparison with taiyaki. Takoyaki is in a whole different class.”

Ahiruneko: Team Takoyaki

“This seems like it should be common knowledge, but takoyaki is the one that goes better with beer. It goes well with shochu and sake, and it’s even a surprisingly good pairing with red wine. Even the round shape of takoyaki makes them a great drinking snack, if you ask me. You can’t really say any of that about taiyaki, though. And why are they shaped like fish if they’re sweet? The sea bream is, like, the king of the fish! What’s it doing with all that anko inside? If you’re going to look like sea bream, I want to eat you as sashimi.”

Add it all up, and the final tally is:
● Team Taiyaki: 4 votes
● Team Takoyaki: 4 votes

Considering that both taiyaki and takoyaki have been popular for generations, it’s not surprising that neither one could pull away from the other in this debate. The upside is that both are easy to find and inexpensive to buy (a street stall taiyaki shouldn’t cost you more than 300 yen [US$2], and takoyaki isn’t much more expensive), so even if you’re not ready to fully pledge your loyalty to one team or the other, hopping back and forth between the two as the mood strikes you is easy to do.

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