This little maple-leaf shaped cake is called a momiji manjū, and it comes from an island in Japan called Miyajima. It is made of buckwheat and rice, with the choice of various fillings, like chocolate, red bean, matcha, or custard. They’re spongy, delicate, and delicious!
Miyajima’s traditional cakes
Anyone who knows the delicious Japanese street food taiyaki will be familiar with the basic taste. It’s a spongy cake with a blob of filling inside, pressed in a mold to cook the batter.
On a visit to the island of Miyajima, off the coast of the bay of Hiroshima, we bought a pack as a gift. They are a specialty food from here, and a popular souvenir for people that visit.
Robots making momiji manjū
The cake shops that produce momiji manjū are usually automated, and it’s pretty fun to peek into the window, where a robot works away to make delicious cakes. The hot maple-leaf shaped mold is filled with the batter, followed by a blob of filling in the middle.
Then the mechanical arm folds the mold and the momiji manjū is almost done. The mold opens and voila! Out comes a little sponge cake, which is wrapped and rolls along a conveyor belt as the next batch of manjū start cooking.
Gift wrapped and ready to go
For most people, the momiji manjū are already made and wrapped and boxed up. We bought one twelve-pack as a gift for a host family that we would be staying with in Beppu. As many box sets are traditionally presents, the box of desserts was wrapped up in a furoshiki cloth, tied and ready to give.
When we arrived in Beppu, we handed our host family the gift. We were looking forward to our stay in Kyushu! Our momiji manjū, joined glasses of sake, bottles of beer, and liqueur chocolates on the table for the whole family to enjoy!
Fried (age) Momiji Manjū
Age-momiji manjū is the deep-fried variation of momiji manjū. It is served on a stick, and deep-fried in batter until it’s super crispy! The fried versions offer different fillings, such as the inclusion of cheese, but the custard is always a favourite.
The fried momiji manjū aren’t great for keeping, so enjoy a fresh one as you check out the temples of Miyajima.
The story of the momiji manjū
The little cakes were first made by a wagashi maker, who delivered them to a ryokan in Momiji-dani (Maple Leaf Valley) on Miyajima. The area is known for its beautiful views of the autumn leaves falling, and the owner of the ryokan wanted a dessert that would capture the spirit of the maple leaves. Thanks to creator Takatsu Tsunesuke, the momiji manjū was born!
If I had the chance to go back to Miyajima, I would definitely buy a much larger pack than the original 8-pack we walked away with. Eating a momiji manjū is a delight, and something that every visitor to Miyajima should try.
Have you tried momiji manjū? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!