Guest writer: Urusai_Uni#0007
When I asked what people wanted to read about in aninspire, a common response that kept cropping up was food. While I have many plans for actual cooking tutorials, today I’ll simply tell you about one of my favorite Japanese sweet treats! Manju are a type of pastry, often filled with red azuki bean paste or anko. They’re very similar to mochi, except that instead of being sticky and chewy, the outside of a manju is more like a sponge cake. They come in all sorts of varieties but my very favorite are called Momiji Manju.
History of Momiji Manju
Momiji manju are named as such because of their “momiji” or maple leaf shape. They were first created over a hundred years ago in about 1907 by a wagashi maker (a maker of Japanese confections) named Tsunesuke Takatsu. He supplied wagashi to a ryokan, or japanese-style Inn, in Momiji-Dani (Maple Leaf Valley) on Miyajima Island. He was inspired by the maple trees in the area, and thus the momiji manju was born! While I was in Miyajima, one of the vendors told me that it was easier for children to hold the maple leaf shape and that that was also part of his decision for making them the way they are.
Momiji Manju Now
These specialty manju can mostly be found all throughout the Hiroshima Prefecture, but some are only found on Miyajima Island, a 10 minute ferry ride from Hiroshima City. Down the main tourist shopping street, you can find many momiji manju shops that are both making and selling the sweet. Dozens of varieties exist, from green tea to chocolate filled. (My favorite is custard!) You can even get them fresh from the vendors while they’re still warm which is absolutely delicious!
Many of the shops also have clear dividers allowing you to watch them actually make the manju in their specialty molds, and guided manju making tours are also available!
One of the more interesting varieties is Age Momiji, or deep fried momiji manju on a stick! These are only available at Momijidon shops in Miyajima, so if you’re ever in the area, be sure to find them! I’ve also found packaged momiji manju in large Asian markets in the US, so keep your eyes peeled the next time you go shopping.
One of the best ways to eat it, if not fresh, is to lightly toast it (in toaster) which both warms it back up again and releases a wonderful aroma. It goes amazingly well with Japanese tea.
Momiji manju are a fun and delicious way to enjoy a unique part of Japan’s culture, if you can find them! Manju come in hundreds of varieties, and even if you can’t find the maple leaf shaped ones, keep your eyes out for some of the others! And if you’re ever in the Hiroshima Prefecture, keep an eye out for little maple leaf cakes, either for yourself or as a great souvenir!