Handy Information Before You Eat! Varieties of the Typical Wagashi, Manju
Manju (steamed yeast bun with filling) is a wagashi (Japanese-style confectionery) that has long been loved by the Japanese people. While the common type is a bun made from wheat flour and other ingredients and then filled with an (red bean paste), manju actually comes in many different variants. Here are several varieties of manju.
The most popular kind of manju is the type that is steamed (“mushi”). It is called different names depending on the ingredients used.
Joyo manju is a manju with a bun made from grated yamaimo (yam, which is also called “joyo”). The yam expands when steamed, so this manju has a distinct airy texture. It may be simple, but making this manju requires intensive skills, so it is said to test the skills of chefs. In Japan, the famous joyo manju is the Shihose Manju of Shiose Sohonke, a shop that was established by the person who introduced manju in the country. This shop’s manju is characterized by its light and simple taste that comes from the strained bean paste that is not overly sweet.
Sake manju (also called saka manju) is a manju with a bun made from glutinous rice and malted rice, mixed with sake. The fermentation force of the malted rice makes the skin of the manju expand*. It is said that this manju got its name from the fact that the process for making it is similar to that of sake, and because it has that special aroma of sake. When it comes to sake manju, the ones made by Nishisaka, a Japanese confectionery shop in Fukui, are highly recommended. Try their Sake Manju that is made by chefs who strive to preserve the traditional taste and flavors of sake manju. *There are manju types in which sake lees and refined sake are added, and then baking powder is mixed in.
Aside from the above, the other mushi manju types are the cha manju (tea manju) and usukawa manju (thin-skinned manju).
Cha manju is the generic term for tea-colored manju that uses brown sugar on the skin of the bun. Its name differs depending on the area and shop where it is made. In this category of manju, one of the most famous variants is the onsen manju that is available at hot spring spots all over the country. The original onsen manju used hot spring water in the dough and was steamed in the actual hot spring, but these days, onsen manju is just the manju that is sold or made in hot spring areas. Meanwhile, the usukawa manju is characterized by its thin skin that reinforces the taste of the bean paste inside. If the skin uses brown sugar, then this manju will become a cha manju-type usukawa manju.
Fu manju, the type of manju in which the red bean paste is wrapped in namafu (wheat gluten), is a favorite of many people thanks to its springy texture and moistness that other kinds of manju do not have. While it is sold in many Japanese confectionery stores, Fuka, a shop in Kyoto that is dedicated to wheat gluten, is especially famous for fu manju.
Namafu is made with the gluten that is left after washing off the starch in wheat flour. It has a non-sticky feel and goes down smoothly. For the fu manju, the namafu kneaded with aonori (green dried seaweed) is most commonly used. The faint smell of the ocean and the sweetness of the bean paste inside make an exquisite match! This kind of manju also comes in yomogi-iri (with Japanese mugwort) and sakura (cherry blossom) flavors. The aroma of the bamboo leaf that wraps this manju is also very refreshing.
Yaki manju is the kind of manju that is a roasted without steaming. There are many varieties of yaki manju, including those that are cooked on an iron plate and baked in an oven.
The typical yaki manju is the Castella Manju that uses generous amounts of egg on the bun. With this manju, the airy sponge cake-type of bun is filled with mild tasting bean paste. The Momiji Manju, a well-known delicacy in Hiroshima, is also a kind of yaki manju. Aside from the tsubu-an (coarse bean paste) and koshi-an (strained bean paste) (both these pastes use azuki beans, and their names come from having the residual sensation of coarse beans for the tsubu-an and the strained smooth palate for the koshi-an), this manju also comes with some unconventional fillings such as matcha bean paste and chocolate.
Age manju is steamed or roasted manju that has been deep-fried in oil. It comes in two types: the type that is fried with batter coating (batter made from wheat flour diluted in water, or some other coating) and the type that is fried as is. In any case, you will enjoy a crunchy texture with both kinds of age manju.
The Tokyo-based Asakusa Kokonoe is recommended when it comes to age manju. Here, the manju is fried and sold at the storefront, so you can have it piping hot. There is also a wide array of flavors to choose from, including koshi-an, matcha-an and kabocha-an (pumpkin bean paste).
You can buy manju in Japanese confectionery stores, souvenir shops, convenience stores, supermarkets and various other places. So, choose different flavors and then try to taste and compare them.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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