Among the many food vendors will be Cam and Heather Baird of Gaijin Taiyaki, returning for their second year to sell taiyaki, a sweet Japanese snack food that comes in a variety of flavors.
Cam and Heather happened upon their food’s popularity, rediscovering it in California, then introducing it in Florida at comic cons and now at Morikami. So have you tried taiyaki yet? We hear it’s quite good!
: The snack food that you make has been described as “a kind of Japanese cake shaped like a fish, and usually filled with sweet red bean paste.” Is this accurate? Are all Gaijin Taiyaki shaped like a fish?
A: (from Heather) It is very accurate! While we do make red bean paste (also called azuki, and it’s made from scratch by Cam’s mother, Emiko!), most of our varieties tend to be sweeter. For the most part, the fish is the standard shape; as the word translates to “baked sea bream,” but some regions of Japan have their own take on the shape. Ours are all fish-shaped.
: Cam, did you ever have taiyaki as a child? What are your childhood memories of this food?
A: I did have taiyaki as a child and enjoyed it, but it was on a family trip to San Francisco as a teenager, where I really became interested in it.
But at that time, it was nowhere to be found on the east coast. The first time Heather and I visited San Francisco together in 2010, I took her to May’s Coffee Shop in Japantown, so that she could try it.
It really rekindled my fascination with the treat; and when we got home, Heather bought me my first taiyaki pan, the stovetop style that makes two at a time. Our
taiyaki really are “gaijin,” as our batter is different, as well. The traditional batter is really great when it’s served warm, but once it cools off it tastes like a cold pancake. We formulated ours to be good at any temperature.
: What made you decide to create and sell this food? Was there a demand for authentic Japanese snack foods when you started the business?
A: (from Cam) After Heather bought my first pan, we would have friends over and make all kinds of different kinds of taiyaki for them to try. It was fun to see what would cook well and what wouldn’t (marshmallow has never worked!), and what tasted good and what didn’t. For my birthday, Heather got me my first serious taiyaki machine that made three at a time.
As taiyaki is a common street food, it would pop up a lot in different anime, and it occurred to me that many people had probably seen it, but had no idea what it was. It also occurred to me that a lot of those people would be at comic cons. Our first opportunity to sell them came from our friend, Aileen, who owns Undergrounds Coffeehaus in Fort Lauderdale; she invited us to participate in a bi-monthly craft show she held at the shop. We made 50 that day and sold out in a couple hours, completely shocked at their popularity.
I thought it would be great to get a booth at a con and see what happened, and Heather got the ball rolling with that too. We bought a second machine that made six at a time, and our first con was Animate Miami 2013.
: What flavors are most popular?
A: (from Heather) Since SuperCon 2014, Cookies n’ Creme has been our most popular flavor, hands down. As of late, the white chocolate butterscotch and triple chocolate have become very popular, as well. Cam’s favorite is peanut butter and chocolate, and mine is chocolate toffee, or chocolate mint, depending on the day.
: How long have you partnered with Morikami and what year is this for you at Oshogatsu?
A: We got started with The Morikami in late 2015, so this is our second Oshogatsu. We really love doing the festivals, as it gives us the opportunity to (share) Japanese food that many people don’t know about, and to make more traditional ones, like the azuki, or our green tea with white chocolate.
: What is your favorite part of making the Gaijin Taiyaki?
A: (from Heather) Cam’s favorite part is trying out new cake and filling combinations and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Our most recent successful
experiments have been the Pumpkin Spice and Mocha flavors. My favorite is going to cons and seeing all my regular customers, or watching someone try their very first taiyaki. The best is when one of my regulars will bring a new friend and introduce them to it.
Join us for Oshogatsu on Jan. 8, 2017. Tickets will be available at the gate.