Sweet Breams Are Made of This…

Something fishy is going on...

Who am I to disagree

Travel the world and seven seas

Everybody’s looking for something…

as cute and precious as these.

With apologies to the Eurythmics, I just couldn’t get that song out of my head when I visited this unusual Japanese bakery in San Mateo, Sweet Breams. It specializes in taiyaki — tiny, filled waffles shaped like fish that are made to order.

When I taught a class recently at nearby Draeger’s, Cooking School Editor Cynthia Liu told me I had to stop by Sweet Breams. Good thing I listened.

Owner Tara Wong, who lived in Tokyo for a spell, got hooked on these adorable snacks as a child when she’d visit May’s Coffee Shop in San Francisco’s Japantown, where they also are made.

Traditional taiyaki are about 5-inches long. Wong thought there would be an even greater appetite for smaller ones. Hers are about 2 inches long, and made with waffle irons imported from Japan. There are four waffle irons. Each is named after one of the Beatles. And yes, she laughs, “Paul” is the most consistent one.

Azuki- and Nutella-filled fish.

She opened her shop about six months ago, and word is already spreading about it. Folks have come from as far as Sacramento to get their fix of the dainty, crispy, warm treats made from a smooth batter of both all-purpose and cake flours.

A tiny bit of batter is squirted into the small mold, then a dab of filling added in the center, before another squirt of batter is added on top. The two sides of the waffle iron are closed together as the waffle cooks over a flame. When the iron is opened up, what emerges is a golden-brown, fish-shaped goodie that does indeed taste like a munchkin waffle with a dab of gooey filling inside.

Wong offers the traditional azuki bean filling, as well as more contemporary ones such as vanilla, chocolate, and Nutella, which really rocks. There’s also a “Catch of the Week,” a special flavor. The taiyaki are sold in “half schools” (6 for $3.25) and “schools” (12 for $5.50).

The sense of humor continues throughout the menu. Wong also offers a “Batsu!” option. If you want, you can order a half school or school and get an extra one filled with wasabi. Yes, that would be undiluted, full-strength wasabi, too. In a Japanese-version of Russian Roulette, you and your friends take turns choosing a taiyaki to eat. The person who gets the wasabi one loses the game, and well, probably his or her taste buds, too.

A must-stop in downtown San Mateo

There’s also a secret menu for insiders. (Psssst, it’s actually on the Web site, too.) For instance, you can ask for “chum.” It’s the extra bits of cooked batter that fall off the mold that you can nibble on.

Terri Dien, Draeger’s senior chef instructor, also started creating cupcakes there a few weeks ago, smeared with aqua frosting to mimic water, and crowned with a taiyaki on top. 

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  • I love these treats and wait for the Obon festival here to go get some. Yum!

  • Hmm, the nutella one sounds good! In Hawaii they used to just make it with the traditional azuki bean filling and they were a bit bigger. So what’s a Bream?

  • I tried them, they are teeny tiny..just ok for me. Be prepared to wait since they are made to order & there could be a line.

    So those cupcakes you mention are selling at Sweet Breams? How much are they & are they worth the calories?

  • Cool! I like that she has different, special flavors of the week. That ume one intrigues me

  • That’s so funny – I was there for the first time today and got a school of vanilla, nutella and chocolate. I also sampled the gingerbread (which is the flavor of the week) – this was very yummy. They were wonderful while fresh at the shop – I brought some home and while I may not have the hang of putting them in the toaster oven, they weren’t as good reheated.

  • Yes, definitely a yummy side trip treat in downtown San Mateo. The attention to detail is amazing – everything in the shop is so cute and it all ties together incredibly well!

  • How cute are those! Pop a couple of those in, and you can get a nice sweet treat fix.

  • Liking the mini-sized Taiyaki. It’s soo good freshly made and still warm. The Nutella taiyaki sounds great, too.

  • A bream is actually a type of fish.
    And I hear that some people actually like to eat them cold, instead of freshly made, or even reheated in the toaster oven.

    And unfortunately, the cupcakes are a late addition, and weren’t yet being sold when I was there. But hey, another excuse to go back.

  • Since we plan on making a trip to eat at Sushi Sams soon, I’ll see if I can stop here too!

  • they have quite similar mini-pancakes (although corn cob shaped, not fish) at the central bus station in jerusalem, israel too…the first time i saw them i said to myself “these have to be something out of asia…”

  • Corn-cob shaped? How interesting! Just shows how many cultures have so many foods in common.

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