If you haven't yet heard of taiyaki, I don't blame you - it's not exactly a popular dessert outside of Metro Vancouver's Asian food scene. Basically, taiyaki is a waffle pancake baked in the shape of a fish, stuffed with toppings like red bean paste or egg custard. Chances are that you may have seen it around popular destinations like either one of the night markets in Richmond.
Thing is, taiyaki itself isn't new. The dessert has been easy to find around the city for those in the know for decades; in fact, my parents used to treat me to a couple each weekend back when I was five.
What is new is the combination of taiyaki with the cool texture of either ice cream or frozen yogurt. This trend has spread like wildfire in hot spots across the globe, like Zero Degrees in Sydney, and Taiyaki NYC in New York's Little Italy... and now it's finally landed in Vancouver at On Yogurt.
As you can expect from their name, On Yogurt's signature food offering is ice fried frozen yogurt, and this is the main ingredient garnishing the opening where the fish mouth marks the top. For those not in the know, ice fried frozen yogurt (froyo) is essentially yogurt and cream flash frozen on a cold griddle, and scraped into the looped curls you see above.
By itself, ice fried froyo has multiple layers of subtle texture that you can taste, but unfortunately, this effect is lost when placed amidst the taiyaki because of the speed at which its warmth induces melting.
However, froyo isn't the only thing contributing to the overall flavour. For example, the matcha froyo above is flanked by a serving of sweet red beans and green tea-flavoured Pocky, and orders of strawberry taiyaki are garnished with actual sliced strawberries and strawberry Stik-O wafer sticks.
Even after all this, it wouldn't be taiyaki if there weren't some sort of sweet filling baked in. The oreo taiyaki above had a generous portion of coconut paste about half the size of my fist baked in, starting just past where the hollowed portion holding the toppings ends at the gills. This filling changes depending on your order - matcha taiyaki would have a red bean paste filling instead.
When I bit into the taiyaki itself, I noticed that it wasn't as distinctly crispy as other versions I've tried previously. Apparently, one side of it was fashioned as a croissant, and the other was made from the usual waffle pancake batter that we'd expect. It was a pretty fancy piece of work.
Clearly, taiyaki at On Yogurt is positioned as a premium product offering, and is accordingly priced as such. A single order here goes for just over $9.00, which is significantly higher than the competition. For reference, Gyu-Kaku prices an order of taiyaki with ice cream for about $5.00 to round out a meal, and Snowy Village serves a single taiyaki alone for $3.50, or three for $10.00.
A good way to justify the premium is to say that the price includes the utility of not just the food, but the overall experience as a whole. As you can see, the interior is littered with all sorts of games and activities with which to occupy yourself with friends, including adult colouring books that kept us occupied for a good half hour at least while our desserts were digesting.
Of course, the steep price may not convince everyone. It helps to keep in mind that On Yogurt offers fried frozen yogurt by itself or with toppings, averaging around $4.00-$6.00. After all, it's what put them on the map in the first place.
In the end, On Yogurt takes the crown for best taiyaki in Vancouver, but it'll take a bit of extra cash to get your hands on one. If you do take the plunge, however... you'll be in for one hell of a ride.