In addition to Iwakuni and Hiroshima proper, I also went to Miyajima on Golden Week, where I decided to try as many flavors of momiji manjû (紅葉饅頭) as I could carry home. Hiroshima area is famous for its beautiful fall foliage, specifically the maple trees; these famous manjû are shaped like momiji, maple leaves.
I patronized two shops in the main shopping area of Miyajima: Yamada-ya and Miyatoyo.
Yamada-ya was established in 1932, and the main store is still in the original building nestled in Miyajima’s quaint-but-touristy food district. From Yamada-ya (やまだ屋), I picked out three flavors: beni-imo (purple sweet potato), aka-tôgarashi (chili pepper), and lemon.
Beni-imo (紅芋), or purple sweet potato, is an Okinawan variety of sweet potato with a purple-red flesh and a lighter skin. (They’re also grown in Kagoshima and Kyûshû.) I tried plenty of beni-imo sweets on my trip to Okinawa last summer, but since they’re not easy to find in Hokuriku, I decided to give the beni-imo manjû a try.
According to the website, the filling is a blend of beni-imo and Japanese sweet potatoes (satsuma-imo, サツマイモ).
My husband said it reminded him of a Twinkie, at which I promptly headkotatsu’d. (That’s headdesking for residents of Japan.) Having maybe only every eaten one Twinkie in my life, I wondered if his assessment was because the filling is fairly sweet, as beni-imo typically is in okashi, but he ultimately decided it was the outer cake shell that reminded him of a snack cake. I personally thought the shell tasted more like a castella (カステラ) or dorayaki (どらやき） “pancake”–it’s about the same kind of batter, after all. My favorite beni-imo okashi are still the tarts (紅芋タルト) and ice cream I had in Okinawa, but if you enjoy beni-imo, you won’t be disappointed.
Since most of the momiji manjû I saw came in sweet flavors like azuki (traditional), fruit or nuts, the chili-pepper （aka togarashi, 赤唐辛子） variety really jumped out at me. The filling and shell are both reddish. According to the website, this flavor is made with powdered capsicum (chili pepper) and ingen mame (インゲン豆）–I get wax bean as a translation for this; most pictures look like the green beans I buy at the grocery stores here. Shiro [white] ingen mame (白インゲン豆) are navy beans. Are there any bilingual bean experts out there?
I wasn’t disappointed–much like the Shinshu (Nagano) ichimi KitKats I tried, the chili pepper mixed with (mystery) bean paste was just the right blend of sweet and spicy. This was my winner for Most Interesting Flavor.
Hiroshima is famous for citrus fruits, and this lemon manjû, labeled as Hiroshima Fruit Momiji: Lemon (ひろしまフルーツもみじ レモン) reminded both of us of a lemon Girl Scout cookie. Like the Aka Momiji, this variety is also mixed with ingen mame instead of azuki.
After poking around Yamada-ya’s website, I really want to try the “black momiji,” which is made with powdered bamboo charcoal (takesumi, 竹炭); mikan; and chocolate varieties. Hopefully my travels will take me back to Hiroshima to eat momiji manjû under the momiji !
Yamada-ya sells standard and customizable omiyage boxes as well as individual manjû. A variety of other sweets are sold there as well.
There are three locations on Miyajima. I went to the main store, but there is a shop by the Miyajima ferry port (to Hiroshima) and one near Itsukushima Jinja, famous for its floating torii gate. The address here is for the main store.
835-1 Miyajima-cho, Hatukaichi-shi, Hiroshima Prefecture
Open daily 8:00-20:30; no regular holidays