Monaka is a type of wagashi, a family of Japanese confections traditionally served with tea. While wagashi come in many different forms, monaka are a sweet sandwich “cookie” of sweet red bean paste in between two rice cake wafers. The azuki red bean paste is quite common in Japanese sweets and the wafers on both sides are made of mochi.
The most basic monaka come in a simple rounded-square shape, but there are also more elaborate ones that are made to look like flowers, blossoms, or chrysanthemums.
Their history goes back to the Edo period a few hundred years ago, when early iterations of the treat were invented. From there they evolved into a more recognizable sandwich cookie that resembles modern monaka around the Meiji Restoration in the mid-1800s. Now they continue to evolve; although the middle is still most commonly filled with red bean paste, some confectioners will put ice cream in the middle instead.
You can find monaka at Uwajimaya next to our other Japanese and Asian sweets.
Sweet azuki bean paste used in various Asian desserts
The azuki bean is usually sweetened to be used in Asian desserts such as taiyaki or mooncakes
A traditional Japanese food enjoyed particularly around the new year, steamed glutinous (sweet) rice is pounded to make mochi. Mochi is white and smooth with a chewy texture.