Benkyodo: A Japanese Tradition
“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things.”
This song comes to mind when I think of the mochi and manju that I get from the Benkyodo Company in San Francisco’s Japantown. There is something very special about these hand made confections. Benkyodo opened in 1906 as one of the original businesses in Japantown. During WWII, Benkyodo was forced to close when the family was interned. The endurance of the family allowed them to reopen after the war and the business has been handed down generation after generation.
What is mochi and manju? Mochi is the specific name for glutinous rice that is pounded into paste and molded into a shape. Manju is the general term for Japanese confections, and there are many, many varieties.
For Christmas, my friend and I picked up some manju from Benkyodo. During the holidays, it’s always best to pre-order so that you can ensure they have the varieties you are looking for when you arrive.
I decided to get a few of their seasonal varieties – blueberry mochi and apple manju, as well as one of their popular varieties – the green mochi filled with red bean paste sprinkled with soybean flour. I enjoy these treats as they are not too sweet and come in bite sized portions. As you bite into the blueberry mochi, you get a rich burst of blueberry in your mouth. This is the first time I enjoyed the apple manju, one of their baked varieties which tasted like a miniature apple pie. The green mochi with the red bean paste is more traditional, and the soybean flour adds a nice nutty flavor.
There is definitely a rich tradition and an art in the making of mochi and manju. More than I enjoy eating them, I love unwrapping the packages that are tied up with strings.