Monaka is a kind of Japanese sweets of bean jam wrapped with thin wafers made from rice cake. There are also fancy monakas containing chestnuts, gyuhi (a kind of rice cake made from glutinous rice or glutinous rice flour), or mochi in the bean jam.
A prototype of monaka is believed to have been dry sweets made by steaming a kneaded mixture of rice powder and water, spreading it into a round thin layer, baking it, and pouring sugar on it. A sweet of bean jam sandwiched by the dry sweets was invented in Edo period. The way of filling the bean jam was improved since then, and the form of the present thin crisp wafers was completed in the Meiji period or later. The wafer parts are specifically called 'tane' because they were originally sweets. Monaka made of bean jam sandwiched by the thin crisp wafers became popular over the country, and now various types of monaka are sold in various places as famous confections.
Production method in present days
While the tane is made in the same way as the prototype until the dough is spread into a thin layer, it is rolled by a roller machine as thin as a few millimeters of thickness. The thin layer is cut into a certain form, and baked on both sides using a baking pan dedicated to the tane. The rice starch then swells out of the baking pan, and light crisp tane is now completed.
It is also possible to make various forms of tane by another production method of heating the mixture of the rice powder and water, kneading it, pouring it into the baking pan through a tube, and directly hot-pressing it.
The tane is generally produced by professional manufacturers of Japanese sweets materials called "taneya" and supplied to Japanese sweets makers. Only a part of Japanese sweets makers still seem to produce the thin crisp wafers of monaka.
There are various kinds of bean jam such as azuki bean. The bean jam in monaka includes less water in it to avoid the tane from getting wet, therefore an amount of sugar is larger, resulting in its shine and high viscosity. The bean jam is put on one of the tane so that there will not be any space when another tane is placed, and the other tane is finally placed on the bean jam for completion.
There are also some products including the bean jam and the tane separately to prevent the tane from getting wet, so that a consumer can put the bean jam in the tane when he or she eats it.
Origin of the name
As I see the moon reflected on the pond, I realize it is the middle of autumn tonight.
Court nobles who knew the poem by MINAMOTO no Shitago in Shui Wakashu (Collection of Gleanings of Japanese Poems) (volume 3, autumn 171) uttered a word 'monaka no tsuki' (moon in the middle) in their conversation as they saw white and round rice cake sweets served in a moon-viewing banquet held in the court, and the word 'monaka no tsuki' was used as the name of the sweets.
It is believed that the prototype of monaka invented in Edo period was produced based on this story, and it was also named 'monaka no tsuki' as in the story.
However, when those in a non-circular shape came into market later, they were called simply 'monaka.'
Monaka as famous confections
They are produced in many placed over the country, and tend to be sold as souvenirs and gifts. There are various shapes of monaka, for example, those modeling a streetcar such as 'Toden Monaka' in Tokyo, 'Enoden Monaka' in Shonan area of Kanagawa Prefecture, 'Chinchin-densha Monaka' in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, 'Subaru Monaka' modeling an automobile of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. in Ota City, Gunma Prefecture, 'Peanut Monaka' in Narita City, Chiba Prefecture, and Moriwaki Monaka (modeling a monaka muffler... produced by order) by Moriwaki Engineering Co., Ltd. known for motorcycle races. Some of the monaka deviate from a general shape of monaka like 'Kimonaka' in Yokohama City, which contains so much bean jam that the tane cannot close. In Miyagi Prefecture, two brands of 'Shiramatsu ga Monaka Honpo Ltd.' and 'Kotobuki Sanshokumonaka Honpo.,ltd' headquartered in Sendai City are famous specialties, and both (especially the former) focus on advertising such as commercial films on local televisions and outdoor advertisement.
Monaka in Taiwan
In the beginning of the 20th century, the production techniques of Japanese sweets were brought into Taiwan, which was governed by Japan for fifty years, and therefore kusa mochi (rice-flour dumplings mixed with mugwort), monaka, and yokan are still produced in local confectioneries.
In Taiwan, monaka is called 'zui zhong' or 'zui zhong bing.'
Not only monaka with azuki bean jam but also those with lotus-pip paste are popular in Taiwan. Furthermore, there are unique products using the bean jam with brown sugar and coffee-flavored bean jam, providing Taiwanese taste. Most of the tane have a traditional shape of a disc, but some manufacturers produce them in such a unique shape as a shell.
The tane is sometimes used to sandwich ice cream or the like instead of wafers.
Kaichu jiruko: Instant shiruko (sweet red-bean soup with pieces of rice cake) using the tane.
Some manufacturers produce western type of sweets using a piece of tane as a tart pastry and filling it with almond and the like.
In the field of machinery, a structure of two exterior parts stuck together horizontally or vertically is referred to as 'monaka structure' supposing that the experior parts are the thin crispy wafers and the internal machinery is the bean jam.