Monday, August 20, 2018

Momiji Manju at Momijido (Itsukushima, Hitsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture)

Miyajima (Itsukushima) is a dream destination; one of the 3 most visited in Japan. But it also has a contribution for regional gastronomy, bridging a bit of history, culture and food consumption. I like food representatives from places because they elevate cooking and food preparation beyond appearances. With this, consumers gain a sensibility for the art of taste. 

Miyajima's favorite take-away gift is called Momiji-manju, a steamed bun shaped like a Japanese maple leaf. It has a red-bean jam filling wrapped in sponge cake. The bun itself is made from buckwheat, flour, egg, sugar and honey. It got its name from one of Japan's most famous maple leaf valley, Momijidani Park, located near the forest of the island. 

Origin of Momiji Manju

Believed to have been created in 1906 when Okami, a ryokan (traditional inn) owner asked a pastry chef to create something that would represent Miyajima. 

Another anecdote involves a visiting samurai statesman of the Meiji Restoration period, Hirobomi Ito (left), who took a fancy to a local girl serving tea. 

When he saw her hands, he quipped, "How tasty it would be if I could eat baked sweets shaped like maple leaves. " This prompted the tea house manager to bake one shaped like the maple leaves scattered on the ground.  

Fried Maple Leaf fr. "Otowa Wedding".
In Minoh City, Osaka, they even fry maple leaves on sweetened tempura batter - for snacks. It would have made sense if maple leaves were incorporated in Momiji Manju's ingredient. But then this is Miyajima, not Osaka.

From the southern hill where temples stood, I found the edge of Miyajima Omotesando Street, the shopping street. Momiji, the bakeshop selling Momiji Manju was at the northern end. It was an engrossing walk along shops selling local products, chestnuts, matcha ice creams, etc. Momiji manju was my last "stop"in Miyajima before heading back to the ferry.

At the very corner of the street, to the right side, is Momijido. I ordered a few pieces with custard, red bean paste and chocolate filling variety. Baking took awhile as you wait. I was served tea. I noticed some people leaving from their Momiji-baking classes. There are 4 sessions a day - 10 AM, 1 PM, 2:15 PM and 3:30 PM. Twenty minutes later, my momiji manju was ready.

I read that there are 20 shops making momiji manju, but the people I asked for directions all pointed to one place - Momijido. It took me awhile to find it because the island barely uses English signs, and when your point of reference is the tip of a pointing finger, you also rely on a lot of guess work and intuition.

If you're in Miyajima, I'd recommend trying Momiji Manju to complete your island experience. You can even try a grilled Momiji, if you're into that.

This photo I captured from the shop, Momijido.

Miyajima Omotesando Shopping Street

FYI: Manju are Chinese-style steamed buns that typically have sweet fillings such as red bean paste.

#momijimanju   #miyajima   #dessert   #snack   #foodporn   #japan


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