My new friend Tawni surprised me with a little box of manju recently! That was so sweet of her, considering I'd only known her for about two weeks! I will admit that I don't know much -- okay, pretty much nothing --about manju. Tawni brought them back from Fugetsu-Do in LA's Little Tokyo district. Fugetsu-Do is a legendary Japanese sweets shop that has been around for 107 years! This is mind-blowing! You just don't see many family-run small businesses like this anymore.
The shop was started by Seiichi Kito in 1903, and it became a family enterprise. Seiichi's wife Tei and her brother Sakuma worked at the shop, as well, helping to make the confectionery a success. The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to the signing of Executive Order 9066, which required the evacuation of people with Japanese ancestry. By this time, sadly, Tei had passed away, and Seiichi was a single father to seven children. He liquidated their inventory and was interned at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. His son, Roy, and his wife, Kazuko, revived the business after the war ended, and it is Roy's youngest son, Brian, who runs the shop today.
I had to research what manju was exactly. I had a vague idea that it was some sort of Japanese sweet. Traditional Japanese sweets are called wagashi. Mochi is made of pounded glutinous rice. It has a soft but chewy texture. Manju has a flour-based exterior that is usually filled with a sweet bean paste made from the red adzuki bean, but not always. Manju can be steamed or baked. Mochi and manju are very popular gifts for the holidays, such as New Year's Day.
My favorite sweet of the seven I received was the white manju with the little green leaf and pink center that you see above. The exterior of the manju was smooth as a baby's bottom, and the texture was light, yet pleasantly dense as you bit into it. The chewy exterior contrasted with the smooth sweet bean paste in the middle. It was very tasty! UPDATE: La Fuji Mama told me that she thinks my favorite is called kiku (chrysanthemum). So lovely. Thanks, Rachael!
Photo by Tawni Araki
Tawni was kind enough to take a few photos for me to include on my blog. The photo above shows the entire selection that she bought at Fugetsu-Do. The colors are so fresh and spring-y. The bottom photo shows the view from the street.
Photo by Tawni Araki
I welcome your comments about manju from Fugetsu-Do. Thank you to Tawni for introducing me to this lovely confection!
P.S. If you are in LA or planning to visit, Six Taste offers food and cultural tours, called "tastings," of Little Tokyo and other neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area. The Little Tokyo tour includes a visit to Fugetsu-Do and a chance to learn about this historic confectionery's influence on the growth of the surrounding community.
Fugetsu-Do Bakery Shop
315 East 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012-3901
Sunday to Thursday: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
Friday and Saturday: 8:00 am to 7:00 pm