Pukupuku Tai – a sweet, fish-shaped, Japanese treat

the first bite is the best

crumbly yum

Generous relatives in Japan ship us goodies a few times a year and for this, I am deeply grateful. Tasting something from Japan is almost as good as being there, especially when an old favorite is nestled in the well packed box.

One of those endearing picks is the okashi or Japanese confectionary, pukupuku tai. Pukupuku is onomatopoeia for the sound of blowing bubbles with fishy lips. Tai or sea bream is a fish that is very prominent in Japanese culture.

Finds of the Day, Week, Year, Life!

How I came to discover pukupuku tai is due to two important facts. First, it is my solemn duty to sample candy, cookies, cakes and treats in a new country. Second, at that time in my Japan working life, my shift was noon to 9pm and having to go grocery shopping after a long day required a treat.

Every grocery store in Japan has a candy aisle that, without a hint of shame, markets aggressively to children. Humans that were once children and especially those denied candy by mean parents are not exempt from the lure. The cleverly placed packages, loud characters, colorful labels, tiny portions, and low prices easily trap even the most careful.

On that fateful day at my favorite small town grocery store, the candy aisle sucked me in. Duty took over and I got to work, searching for a treat to fill my need for sweet. Choco (chocolate flavour) pukupuku tai was a random purchase and I was far from disappointed.

chocolate or strawberry?

Brother and sister – which one tastes best?

Notice the pink fishy on the box in the picture above? Even better than the luck of finding chocolate flavored, wafer covered fish was stumbling across ichigo or strawberry ones.

After a grueling day marching up and stumbling down Mount Nantai in Tochigi Prefecture, sugar was in order. Hitoshi’s bro pulled into a rural grocery store and there was my beloved choco pukupuku tai beside its friendly sister, strawberry-chan.

a Japanese treat waiting to be munched

ready for a chomp

A taste to swoon for

If I had to choose between the chocolate and strawberry flavors, it would be tough.

Both editions have similar qualities including great crunch on first bite and a light, airy filling that dissolves quickly. I love that the filling is consistent throughout with no empty pockets, even in the edges of the tail. There is also no chalky aftertaste.

The outer biscuit doesn’t have much flavor for me. Most of the taste comes from the filling and this is where the differences start.

  • Choco/Chocolate

The chocolate version has a solid, distinct flavor that isn’t sweet, especially when compared to Canadian treats. It tastes mostly bitter and even a little burnt, which is appealing. In fact, I want a second one immediately! As well, Japanese sweets and prepared foods can be surprisingly accurate in their smell and the choco pukupuku tai is no exception.

  • Ichigo/Strawberry

The taste of the strawberry edition is delicately sweet and reminds me of my beloved strawberry flavored milk from Japan. The smell is very sweet so the strawberry is better when I want more of a sugary sensation.

broken puku puku tai in milk

Choco pukupuku tai in milk for something different

The Mystery of Fluctuating Stock

Why these fish were more easily found outside of major cities while living in Japan is still a mystery. Stock wavered at our local store in Tokyo and sometimes disappeared unexpectedly. When we left Japan, my brother-in-law presented me with a *box* of chocolate ones to enjoy and little did I know, this would be the last I would see for some time.

When we returned to Japan for visits, sometimes we could find the fish and sometimes not. Hitoshi’s family has had trouble tracking them down for me and were sure they were gone for good a while back. Fortunately, Hitoshi’s brother went to a food distributor and picked up three boxes to send our way.

If you live in Japan and know why pukupuku tai keep disappearing or are hard to find, let us know!

the inside of a strawberry treat

Mmmmm… sweet and airy bubbles

Have you tried this delectable treat? If not, do you want to now?

34 thoughts on “Pukupuku Tai – a sweet, fish-shaped, Japanese treat

  1. Pingback: Apricotsushi Reviews: Jlist Snack Subscription | Chic Pixel

    • Thanks for the link! I enjoyed reading your take on the snack service. I had no idea that sort of thing existed… probably because I’ve got a semi-regular one in our family in Japan. 😀 I’m going to look more into it though. It looks like a fun way to get a different selection of snacks.

      • Every year at Tulip Festival in Orange City , the third weekend in May, (as well as weekly during the summer) the Dutch Heritage Boosters serve poffertjes, miniature pancake confections topped with a rum butter and powdered sugar. As you’d think, they are in big demand!

  2. I have never tried them, but they look so delicious. Plus, you said in one of your comments that they remind you of an aero bar which makes them sound even better. My mother-in-law just got back from Hokkaido and she brought back so many delicious treats/snacks. Oh, and she raved about seeing snow! 🙂

    • They really are! I hope your mil had a great time. Was that her first time to Japan? Did she bring back white chocolate covered dried strawberries or the corn chocolate? Hokkaido is famous for both and those strawberries are to die for. The snow in Hokkaido is supposed to be incredible. That’s one place in Japan that has been on my to do list for a really long time. How are *your* Japan plans going?

    • Yes! They are so yummy. Hmmm… the filling is very light and airy. There is an Aero chocolate bar here that it reminds me of. I’m sure you know Flakes?? The consistency is like that but a little softer and with far more flavour.

      • Flakes, you mean like cornflakes? I do know Aero, we have the same in the Netherlands called Bros (like most products in the UK, they have different names in mainland Europe but besides that are the same). And that’s exactly what the pukupuku tai reminded me of. Since that’s chocolate though, I was wondering if the pink one was like airy and bubbly strawberry chocolate?

        • I think they are called Cadbury Flakes. I had them in the UK, usually stuck in ice cream and I’ve seen them here, too. I didn’t know the Netherlands also had Aero/Bros! By the way, I looked for the Dutch choclate you suggested and haven’t seen it yet but I’ll keep an eye out.
          Yes! That’s a good description… “airy and bubbly strawberry chocolate”. It’s more on the milkly strawberry side than chocolate though.

  3. Mmm based on the pictures and your description, this is hard, right? I have eaten something that looks exactly the same but it is soft and it has paste inside, normally red bean or custard! I tried it in Korea.

    • Hi Marta! The filling is light and airy…iIt almost melts in your mouth. So yummy!

      Yes, those sweets look the same as the ones you tried in Korea. They are also popular in Japan and are also filled with anko aka red been paste, matcha and sometimes custard. I’m not crazy about anko so I usually avoid them but they sure smell good when you pass the vendors baking them. That’s neat, but I suppose not surprising that Korea has the same thing! Is there anything like this in China??

      • Yes! I tried something similar in China, but the filling was custard and the shape was either bells or just plain round 🙂 They surely smell good, hehe.

        • Oh! That does sounds really good. I love custard and inside a chewy outside?? Heaven! Was there any significance with the bells and did they have a stamp on the outside? I’ve seen something like that at the local Chinese market but I’ve never tried them. We have to go there soon again so I should keep an eye out. Do you know what they are called?

    • They are so good! They remind me a little of an Aero chocolate bar but far tastier and with a crispy outer coating. Hmmm… I can’t recall if I ate Gaiety biscuits. I had to look them up and I definitely ate Tim Tams so it’s possible? I think I would prefer the G’s. Something about the TTs didn’t appeal, except for the caramel ones. 😀 Now, how do I find them here… By the way, I went looking for those special biscuits and Eski lollies and still haven’t found them but! I think I have found a biscuit that might be close. Wish me luck!

    • Wonderful! They really are so good and highly addictive. And cheap. I can’t recall exactly but if memory serves me, around Y100 each. How often does your family visit? We’ve got one coming in August this year. We seem to go in even years and they come in the odds.

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