In Japanese, the term momiji generally refers to maple trees, which turn red every autumn. In the city of Minoh, just north of Osaka, the term also applies to a local delicacy: maple leaf momiji tempura. Slightly sweet and somewhat salty, especially in the veins, the leaves’ flavor has been compared to karinto, the deep-fried brown-sugar snack. Nowadays, some shops serve it with tea as an afternoon snack. However, you can also get it to go as a souvenir for friends and family.
Momiji Tempura History
Some claim that maple-leaf tempura has been around for more than 1300 years. In any case, most sources agree that Minoh owes its famous cuisine to another notable attraction. Minoh Falls, a gorgeous, cliff-side waterfall encircled by elegant maple trees, has long attracted nature worshipers. The scene inspired Shugendo practitioners in the area to create maple-leaf tempura to serve to visitors. In 1910, a train station opened to allow visitors easier access, and vendors ramped up commercial operations.
The process differs slightly from vendor to vendor. At Hisakuni Kousendou, an 80-year-old shop in town, yellow leaves are plucked in the fall and stored for a year. Red leaves, which are more mature, are thicker and have harder stems. They also tend to turn black when cooked—not ideal for aesthetic purposes.
Although the leaves themselves don’t taste like much, they serve as a vehicle for a sweetened batter made from flour and coarse sugar. You might see sesame seeds added for additional crunch and flavor, too. The leaves are aged in salt, which acts as a preservative, for one year, then deep-fried in vegetable oil for about 20 minutes. Finally, resting the leaves on towels overnight would siphon off some of the excess oil before serving.
Momiji tempura is available year round since they preserve the young leaves. But salting is not the only tactic shops employ to ensure the momiji never runs out. For example, Hisakuni Kousendou actually cultivates 150 of its own maple trees in order to produce its maple-leaf tempura. It’s safe to say, if you head to Minoh, you’ll find maple-leaf tempura.