Taiyaki, "fried sea bream," are fish-shaped cakes with sweet red bean paste in the middle. Technically I shouldn't list them on this site, since I haven't actually put them into a bento. They're too big to fit in there, and I don't like to slice them up. But they're nifty-looking and fun to make and fun to eat, so here you go!
You need only a few things. One is taiyaki batter. I use plain ol' Aunt Jemima pancake and waffle mix. The second is anko, red bean paste, which is available in cans in Asian groceries. The third is a taiyaki-ki, the fish-shaped molds with which you cook the stuff. That is where it gets tricky. I searched all over and located none on English-language sites for nonridiculous prices until I stumbled
across a listing, of all places, on Amazon. There it is on the right if you want to get one for yourself.
When I got this thing I was faced with a dilemma. How do I use it? What do I heat it on or in? I have an electric stove! No help from the item's packaging or documentation, as my Japanese isn't that good. I finally tried setting it on top of a plain burner, set to 7.5 (medium hot, the same heat I use for pancakes) and lo and behold the cakes came out fine on the first try. Go figure.
So - put the taiyaki-ki on the burner and let it heat, turning so both sides will be hot. Mix up your batter. Open up the red beans, and mush them up with a fork if they're not mushed-up enough for your taste. Spray in a light touch of cooking spray so the fish won't stick - this ain't Teflon. Then quickly spoon in a thin layer of batter
on both sides of the mold, starting at the tail and working through the body. Dollop in some bean paste, not touching the edges of the
mold. Cover the anko with a little more batter, then close the mold. Cook for a few minutes on each side. When the fish is browned on both sides - which you can see by opening the mold a little and pulling it down with a skewer - it's done.
This is one of those things that you get better at by trial and error. Exactly how much batter to use, how much bean paste, how long to cook? Just try it and find out. It's hard to really mess it up if you've ever made pancakes before and have some idea how the batter cooks.
You can use other fillings in this. I've used chocolate melts. Delicious! I've also heard of shrimp paste, sweetened peanut butter, and other variations.