What does a year-old, salted maple leaf taste like? Nothing much, apparently. Instead, merchants use the leaf as an attractive frame for the sweet coating, which is drier and crispier than the tempura surrounding, say, a shrimp. Some cooks also add sesame seeds for an extra pop of flavor.
Vendors first commercialized tempura-fried leaves after a train station opened near Minoh’s most notable waterfall in 1910. Outdoorsy tourists visiting the Osaka prefecture flocked to the site, taking the tasty, iconically-shaped souvenir with them when they left. (The salt preserves the young maple leaves, making them a year-round snack.) The novel delicacy became a symbol of the region, and it remains difficult to find in other parts of the country.
You’ll hear locals refer to maples as momiji, which means “becomes crimson-leaved.” The word also translates literally to “baby’s hands,” but don’t be alarmed: No human babies were harmed in the making of this unusual snack. Baby maple leaves, on the other hand, were not so lucky.
“my first semester i had only nine students.
hoping they might view me as professional and well prepared,
i arrived bearing name tags fashioned in the shape of maple leaves.”
credits: bert kimura, gastro obscura