Murou-ji Temple’s Monzen speciality: Kaiten-yaki
In early summer, many fireflies dance near the Murou-gawa, a river known for its natural beauty. A road follows the river leading to the local temple of this small mountain village. Numerous teahouses and ryokans which serve traditional Japanese cuisine are scattered along the side of the river.
One of these shops stand out in particular. Every now and then people wait in line in front of particular store that produces these round-shaped snacks at a constant rhythm. These snacks are known as Kaiten-yaki.
Kaiten-yaki are coin-shaped Japanese snacks made from flour (dough) with azuki paste (red bean) in the inside. In Japan, Kaiten-yaki can be found at regular shops and during special occasions such as festivals.
It’s the kind of snack for the occasional customer : something that anyone can enjoy. While the snack is popular throughout Japan, its name and taste differs depending on the region. For example, it is called Imagawayaki in the Kanto region and Oban-yaki in the Kansai area.
Japanese herb yomogi & Kaiten-yaki
In front of the gate leading to Murou-ji temple, there is a sweets cafe called “Eikichi”. People come from far away to visit this shop that sells light green colored Kaiten-yaki. The light green color comes from the yomogi (mugwort) paste that is mixed with the dough.
While using mochigome rice is normal when making Japanese sweets, it is rare for Kaiten-yaki to be mixed with yomogi. Eikichi uses natural yomogi that is picked from the surrounding mountains. Soft, fresh and young leaves are boiled in water and then immediately put in cold water to preserve the fresh taste of spring.
Each is handmade with love
Originally, the property was home to a ryokan (Japanese inn). After the ryokan went out of business, Shoko Sugimoto bought the land and decided to open a sweets shop. “I knew from the start that I wanted to offer an original, never been done before pastry” she said.
While the use of yomogi in Japanese sweets have been adopted before, as is the case with Kusa Mochi (Yomogi Mochi), yomogi has never been applied to Kaiten-yaki until Sugimoto did .
The dough is made with no eggs, only flour, baking powder and water. Despite the simple recipe, the dough is well made and its fluffy texture is memorable. The red bean paste is made from half strained and half unsmashed red beans: the key to their special recipe. Sales began in 1965. Today, the recipe is exactly the same as when the store first opened.
Even if Yomogi Kaiten-yaki are sold throughout the entire year, certain items on the menu are limited to specific seasons. During the summer, kakigori (shaved ice) and somen noodles are available, while on winter Eikichi serves sweet sake.
Of course, other than these, the menu offers a wide variety of options the prices of which have barely changed since the cafe’s opening day. If you visit the cafe, you can listen to the sound of running water of the Murou-gawa river and feel the warmth of Sugimoto’s smile. Perhaps, this is the reason behind the long-lasting love for Eikichi.