For many years I lived a Tale of Two Cities, maintaining homes – kitchens – in both Osaka and Tokyo. During that time I discovered the pleasures of manganji tōgarashi, a mild, tender capsicum with an earthy-rich aroma. A specialty of nearby Kyoto, the pepper thrives on strong sun and occasional heavy rains -- and that is exactly what the entire Kansai area (Kyoto, Nara, Osaka) had plenty of this summer! The peppers appear in local markets – and thankfully in Tokyo, too – as summer wanes and everyone eagerly anticipates aki no mikaku (autumnal delicacies) at table.
Amenable to a variety of cooking methods, one classic manganji tōgarashi preparation includes skillet-roasted peppers showered with smoky katsuo-bushi flakes. It makes a fabulous nibble to accompany well-chilled dry saké, or wine.
Believed to have originated in South America before spreading rapidly about the globe, capsicums (peppers) were probably introduced to Japan with the Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century. The oldest documented varietal in Japan, an annual called Fushimi ama, or "sweet," was developed in the kitchen gardens of feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Fushimi Momoyama castle.
Named after the area near Maizuru City (Kyoto) where the varietal was developed, Manganjitōgarashi are a relative newcomer in the world of chili pepperdom. About 90 years ago, Japanese growers created this hybrid from their native Fushimitōgarashi (a slender, slightly incendiary capsicum), marrying it to the bulbous and sweet, California Wonder bell pepper.