When people think of the delicious and diverse variety of foods that Osaka has to offer, sweets and desserts aren’t typically what initially comes to mind. However, Osaka has a long and storied history when it comes to desserts and sweet snack treats. Perhaps the best known of these is Taiko-Manju
What is Taiko Manju?
Taiko Manju is a popular sweet, commonly sold on street stalls and in sweet shops around Osaka. It is best enjoyed when freshly cooked to order. It is a sweet batter-based sweet dumpling, stuffed with sweet bean paste usually, however sometimes other fillings are also used.
With a flour, egg and sugar based batter, it is in some ways similar to an American style pancake, though perhaps a little lighter and more fluffy.
Manju, literally means dumpling, however, the “Taiko” aspect of the name comes from the world famous style of drum commonly used in Japanese ceremonies, rituals and performances. The shape of the taiko manju is near identical to the shape of these legendary drums, hence the name.
Varieties of Taiko Manju
As mentioned previously, Taiko Manju is best known for its shape and its sweet bean filling. The only real variety to be found in the different types of Taiko Manju lies in the size, and the filling. Though there is a general size used by most vendors, based on the size of the cooker used. However, from time to time you may find the odd street stall that uses their own, bespoke cooking equipment and as such they might offer you a slightly bigger Taiko Manju than you expect!
Some sellers also like to experiment with different fillings such as whipped cream, custard or chocolate. However, it’s important to remember that a true Taiko Manju will only have sweet anko bean paste inside!
Where to buy Taiko Manju
Like most street foods in Osaka, the absolute best, and most authentic place to try Taiko Manju is at a “yatai”, a street food stall. These can be found all over Osaka, but outside of seasonal festivals, the best place to find a good yatai, selling Taiko Manju, is the Dotombori area in Shinsaibashi, Chuo Ward. Alone the riverside, you will find a wide range of Yatai serving not only Taiko Manju but a host of other delicious street snacks such as yakitori chicken skewers, takoyaki and another popular sweet, taiyaki.
If you prefer to get your Taiko Manju from a shop, pre-packaged to take home with you, then your first stop should be Gozasouro, a popular chain of Japanese confectionery shops.
Their main store is in Namba, but they have branches dotted throughout the city.
How to make Taiko Manju
Taiko Manju is one of those dishes so common in Osaka, that is not only unique and delicious, but also very easy to make, if you know what you’re doing.
To make a batch of delicious Taiko Manju for the whole family to enjoy, you’ll need the following ingredients:
3 medium sized cups of flour
2 tablespoons of baking powder
20 grams of sugar
1 cup of water
100 grams of anko bean paste (if you cant find anko beans, then custard, whipped cream or festive mince pie filling will also work, though the taste will be a little different)
How to Prepare:
Begin by sifting your flour into a large bowl, add in your baking powder. Stir well for several minutes until fully bonded.
Next, add your sugar and gently whisk the mixture until the sugar is completely absorbed.
Add your water, slowly and gradually, continue to stir the mixture well. You want to make your dough nice and light and easily pliable.
Next, break up your dough into a dozen or so equally sized pieces. This will of course vary depending on how many Taiko Manju you want to make.
Roll each piece into a ball, then press them flat.
Add a generous spoonful of anko paste, or whatever filling you intend to use into the middle of each flattened piece. Stretch the dough around and over the filling to form a dome shape.
Once you’ve repeated this for every piece, place them all in a steamer. Steam the dumplings for about 10 minutes, checking them regularly. Once they have all fully risen, they are ready to serve.
The nature of Taiko Manju is such that they are best enjoyed fresh out of the steamer. They do not take well to being reheated, as they tend to lose their shape, texture and most importantly, taste.
So, be sure to eat your Taiko Manju while they are fresh and piping hot.
Of course Taiko Manju are just one example of the many fine sweets Osaka has to offer. They make a delicious dessert accompaniment to any meal, as well as a warming taste sensation to brighten any cold winter night. Be sure to try some for yourself next time you’re in town.