Momiji Tempura Are Our New Favourite Maple Treat

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Osakan fried maple leaves are the ultimate seasonal snack.

Come autumn, the mountainsides and parks of Japan explode with the colours of changing leaves on maple trees. It’s no wonder, then, that momiji, the Japanese word for “maple tree,” shares a kanji or character with kōyō, meaning “red leaves” or “autumn colours.”  Crunchy momiji tempura – deep-fried maple leaves first made centuries ago as an edible tribute to fall – are a sweet-and-savoury treat packaged like chips or Japanese karinto crackers.

Try momiji seasoned with sesame seeds and green-tea dust, shichimi (chili), kinako (roasted soy flour) or the umami of shio broth. Pair a packet with the citrusy Yuzu White ale from local brewery, Minoh Beer, established by the “godfather” of Japanese beer, Masaji Oshita.

November 19, 2020
An animated gif of packaged tempura maple leaves shifting left and right

The Legend

The colourful leaves on the banks of the Minoh River inspired a Shugendo mystic, En no Gyōja, to found the Ryuanji Temple, just north of modern-day Osaka, more than 1,300 years ago.

The Snack

En no Gyōja fried the first momiji as a way of further enjoying the leaves’ beauty. Tempura was only introduced to Japan in the 16th century by the Portuguese, so the battered version came along later.

The Process

Golden-yellow leaves of the Ichigyoji maple (red leaves are too dark and fibrous) are collected from the forests of Minoh and then layered with salt into barrels. After curing for one year, leaves are washed, coated in a sweet tempura batter and fried.

Where to Try It

Only found in Minoh and the Osaka prefecture, packets are sold at shops near the Minoo metro station and along the riverside route to Ryuanji Temple and the 33-metre waterfall. One of the longest-running purveyors is Hisakuni Kousendou, which has its own maple grove and has been frying momiji for more than 80 years.

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