One of the things I’ve learned over the years is the fact that one can find the best treats in the most unlikely places.
Case in point: would you believe that there’s actually a little hole-in-the-wall shop along Muntinlupa’s National Road that sells authentic fish-shaped Japanese griddle cakes? It may seem like a really far-fetched notion, but it’s true!
These are taiyaki, so named because the griddles these are cooked in are made in the form of the sea bream (Nihongo: tai), a fish that is considered a symbol of good fortune in Japan. As a result, these adorable cakes are served at weddings or at the birth of a family’s first child.
Many urban Filipinos are aware of another kind of Japanese cake, the imagawayaki, which is cooked in round, smooth-surfaced griddles and normally comes stuffed with either red bean paste or chunky peanut butter. The cooking technique for taiyaki is similar: batter is poured into the molds, fillings are added when the batter is half-set, then the molds are clapped together to form individual stuffed cakes.
However, it should be noted that the taiyaki has a lighter batter than its stodgier counterpart. This gives it a crisper exterior and a tender, almost meltingly delicate interior. Plus, while imagawayaki seems to be stuffed with everything from red bean paste to Cheddar cheese, the only proper fillings for taiyaki at the little shop in Muntinlupa seem to be red bean or custard.
The red bean filling used at the shop is a bit grainier than the stuff used by most imagawayaki vendors, but it is certainly moreish as it isn’t very sweet and has a rather pleasant smoky-earthy edge that goes well with the delicate crust.
But it’s the custard filling that really puts a smile on my face every time I head over to the shop. If you’ve had the cream puffs at Beard Papa, the creamy custard is similar to the filling that they use. It’s silky, creamy, and laced with vanilla, possibly a hint of cinnamon. Yes, it’s that good.
The little taiyaki shop is just a block or so away from the church of Our Lady of the Abandoned and is close to the intersection leading to Susana Heights. If you get there early enough, the kindly Japanese ojisan (uncle) running the shop will be greasing up the griddles for a fresh batch. It takes fifteen minutes for him to cook the cakes, and they are certainly worth the wait. You can get one for P 8.00 only; a half-dozen for P 45.00. (They knock fifty centavos off the unit price if you buy in bulk.) It’s a small price to pay for a little bit of Japan.