Hawaii Food: Manju

On to the next mouth-watering chapter of Japanese sweet treats found in Hawaii…

Manju! It’s the buttery cousin to those globs of gooey goodness, better known as mochi, and has become an equally satisfying way to sweeten up life’s palate. Like mochi, manju is also a cake-like pastry made with glutinous rice paste; a few obvious differences include its texture and the goodies that fill these plumped pastries.

Manju from Kauai’s Menehune Food Mart that will melt in your mouth.

Japan’s version of manju tends to pull more toward the doughier side, a hot “steam bun” that makes for a hearty meal with its curry, meats and even pizza fillings. They also have sweeter variations, but nothing like Hawaii’s manju! Hawaii’s falls into the dessert category and often includes a rich, flaky golden crust that melts in your mouth. There’s no doubt that the fillings will satiate anyone’s sweet tooth – coconut, apple, sweet potato and even a few legumes – azuki bean (sweet black bean paste) and lima bean – get thrown into the mix. As weird as the last two flavors may sound, they’re probably one of my favorites. Don’t worry, they taste nothing like a vegetable!

You’ll get the freshest manju on the islands of Maui and Kauai. However, Maui’s Homemaid Bakery does ship to Oahu. Anyone mad about manju will tell you there are two general types. One is the crisp golden ones you’ll find at Homemaid Bakery or at Kauai’s Menehune Food Mart. The other type – found at Maui’s Sam Sato’s restaurant – strays from the “norm” by making its manju much lighter and a little less flaky. Both types are delicious in their own way, but if I had to choose my favorite, I’d pick Sam Sato’s manju because it’s not as oily as the others and therefore, makes me feel less guilty when stuffing my face!

Like many parts of Japanese culture, manju has ties to China. Called mantou in Chinese, the sweet treat made its way to Japan around the 14th century and picked up the name nara-manju. It’s now simply referred to as manju and has evolved into a unique Japanese treat found in many sweet shops and bakeries. And with the help of Japanese immigrants, manju traveled to Hawaii decades ago before becoming a delectable dish within the island’s perse culinary scene.

1 COMMENT

  1. Azuki manju was the first “new food” I tried while on Kauai, and I fell it love with it! Anyone have a good recipe I could use to make at home?

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