Aji WOW is my series of unusual Japanese food/drink reviews. 'Aji' (味) means 'flavour', and the name's also a pun on 'ajiwau' (味わう) - 'to enjoy the taste of'.
This time: Momiji tempura.
The city of Minoh (or Minoo, or Mino-O, up to you) isn't far from Osaka. It's known for several things, such as the waterfall and hot springs, and the beer made at Minoh brewery.
Sure, other places have hot springs too. And Minoh beer is shipped to plenty of shops and bars in Kansai. You don't have to be in the city to experience those. So if you want something that's Minoh and only Minoh, what do you try?
Momiji tempura, that's what.
Yes, that is a deep fried leaf. A Japanese maple leaf, to be more exact.
I hasten to point out these leaves aren't just plucked off the trees and deep fried. (Or worse, plucked off the ground...) They've got to be dried and preserved first. Prepping momiji leaves to be made into tempura takes up to a year.
On the 3km-ish walk up to Minoh waterfall, there are several shops selling momiji tempura. You can get mini packs of baby leaves for snacking, or bigger gift boxes. Sadly, no 'I went to Minoh and all I got was this box of leaves' T-shirts in sight.
I went with a bag of hot, freshly-battered momiji to eat as I walked around. It's hard to resist the sweet, warm maple smell wafting through the air. The day was overcast and a little chilly, so having these as a hand-warmer was also pretty nice.
When I went to Minoh in late September, some of the leaves still on trees were just starting to turn. To see the autumn foliage at its peak, November's typically the best time to go. Momiji tempura can be bought all year round, even though they're seen as more of an autumn snack. Being fried gives them that autumn orange, which I suspect is part of the appeal.
I'll be honest: as tasty as these are, they're 95% batter and 5% leaf. They've got that satisfying crunch, and you can see the leaf inside, but it's bordering on 'toffee apple without the apple'.
The bits you can see in the batter are sesame seeds. Most shops mix them in when frying the momiji. They add to the savoury flavour, and surprisingly go really well with maple. I did find one stall selling spicy momiji, but I didn't ask what they were spiced with. Possibly mustard seeds.