It’s a hearty lunch, it’s a snack, it’s a dessert… And there’s a seemingly endless
assortment of flavors from which to choose! These flour, rice powder, and buckwheat
dough buns come with a variety of fillings and are boiled and kneaded together,
often sporting a Hershey’s Kiss-shaped dollop at the top.
Frequently called the “steam bun” in English, manju are usually served piping hot,
making them a popular winter treat. Although large, they’re easy to hold in one
hand and are a preferred lunch item for people on the go. Available at konbini (convenience
stores), street vendors, and bakeries, manju are fairly inexpensive treats!
Like many aspects of Japanese culture, manju has its roots in China. A kind of mochi
(cake made of glutinous rice paste), the Chinese mantou made its way to Japan in
the 14th century. Renamed “Nara-manju” by the natives, this rice cake with filling
evolved into its own unique Japanese take on the dish, which is traditionally shaped
and made a bit differently from the Chinese mantou of today.
How can a single food be both a meal and a dessert? The filling makes all the difference!
Hearty meal manju fillings include:
- kare man (“curry”: curry-flavored pork or chicken)
- hanbagu man (“hamburger”: ground beef with or without cheese)
- piza man (“Japanese pizza”: ingredients typically include cheese, sauce,
sausage, pepperoni, corn, seafood, etc.)
- terichikin mayo man (“teriyaki chicken with mayonnaise”)
- ebi man (“shrimp”)
- shiro kare man (“white curry”)
- nikuman (“meat manju”)
Dessert and snack manju have as many fillings as a confectioner can think up, but
the most popular include:
- man (“red bean paste”)
- matcha man (“green tea”)
- koma man (“black sesame paste”)
- choko man (“chocolate” cream)
- imo man (“sweet potatoes” with white lima beans and cinnamon)
- piinatsubattaa man (“peanut butter”)
- ichigo man (“strawberries” with white lima beans)
- kuri man (“chestnuts” with white lima beans)
- momo man (“peaches”)
The staple manju filling is anko (“red bean paste”). Anko may also be mixed with
other fillings to give it a richer flavor. Some manju buns are colored and/or flavored
to accentuate the taste of the filling. For example, kare man features curry-flavored
buns and choko man has cocoa baked right into the dough!
Manju frequently makes an appearance during the Tsukimi festival that takes place
the night of the first full moon of autumn each year. Originally intended to celebrate
the bounty of the fall harvest, the Tsukimi festival is celebrated by farmer and
non-farmer alike in Japan by quietly sitting outdoors alone or with friends and
gazing upon the beauty of the full moon. As they admire the moon, people drink sake
and eat small, rounded foods that remind them of the moon, particularly tsukimi
dango (rice dumplings) and tsukimi manju, anko-filled manju colored yellow to remind
the celebrants of the moon!
Got questions? Discuss Manju in our forums