上巳の節句 on March 3rd is the second in the five main seasonal festivals of Japan. Sometimes called Momo no Sekku (Peach festival ) or (dolls festival) but more commonly known as Hinamatsuri 雛祭. This festival originally celebrated both boys and girls but over time the celebration ended up being just for girls when Tango no Sekku became popular known as boys day, celebrated in May. Dolls are still displayed and are now said to represent the emperor and empress. The dolls are displayed to ward of evil spirits and are often bought with the birth of a new child or past down from grandparents.
The day now celebrates the growth and good health for parents with girl children. Hinamatsuri is a symbolic date for spring signalling the blooming of blossoms and the start of a new season.
There are many traditional foods that are eaten on this day for instance, hina-arare bite sized crackers, a fermented sake drink called shirozake, strawberry daifuku, sakura mochi, temari sushi, kompeito small candy sweets, inari sushi and chirashi sushi to name a few.
Often you will see dango in these three colours which are popular at this time. These are also called hanami dango 花見団子 or Sanshoku 三色団子 dango, which literally translates to “three coloured rice dumpling”.
Hanami 花見 means flower viewing which is something that Japanese people love to do to mark the changing of the seasons.? From the Ume blossom in early spring to the Sakura then wisteria and Ajisai in June. Japanese people often have picnics to admire the cherry blossom in spring and one such food that is enjoyed is hanami dango. It is also popular to eat this confectionery at Hinamatsuri celebrations as it is a spring celebration.
It is said that hanami dango was first served to guests at a hanami party Daigo no hanami which refers to the blossom-viewing party held in grand style at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto on April 20, 1598 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi attended by about 1,300 people . After this time it became popular to serve this confectionery when viewing cherry blossoms.
There are three specific colours associated with Hinamatsuri green for health, white for purification, and pink for luck. Some times the colours are referred to as : Green colour of spring. White the last snow that is melting away. Pink spring flowers, such as cherry blossoms and peach blossom.
Traditionally the pink dumplings were coloured using purple shiso (赤紫蘇) . However be careful if you are vegan in Japan as often any food that contains pink food colouring is not suitable for a vegan diet as it may contain carmine (made from cochineal insects) other names for this pink food colouring are E120 Cochineal, Crimson Lake or Natural Red 5. If you would like to make these simple traditional Japanese sweets for yourself you can with natural food colouring, like strawberry powder or beetroot juice.
Dango is often described with an onomatopoeia in Japanese called “mochimochi”! ‘Mochi-mochi’ (meaning chewy, elastic, soft, plump). So what is the secret ingredient to make these Sanshoku dango so soft with that mochi mochi texture for yourself ? In my recipe I’m using the soft “Shizenno Megumi”Organic Tofu by “Hikari Miso”. The authentic soft textured tofu called “Kinughosi Tofu” in Japan achieves a softer but chewy dango and adds sweetness without adding sugar.
To make these three colour dango which signify purification, health and luck you will need a pack of “ Shizenno Megumi Organic tofu, you will also need equal proportion: 50% rice flour and 50% glutinous rice flour. Known as Shiratamako (白玉粉) – Japanese short-grain glutinous rice flour, also known as sweet rice flour and Joshinko (上新粉) – Japanese short-grain rice. For this recipe I used two and a half tablespoons of each in each bowl. Shiratamako can come in quite large chunks so it is advisable to grind them down into more of a powder.
You will also need bamboo skewers, matcha powder and pink natural food colouring, I used beetroot juice.
First drain you tofu from the packet and section into three equal pieces and divide into three bowls, then mash the tofu. Add one tablespoon of shiratamako and one tablespoon of Joshinko to each bowl. Next add colouring to two bowls I used one teaspoon of matcha for green and one teaspoon of natural beetroot juice for pink.
Cream the tofu in each bowl then add another tablespoon each of shiratamako and joshinko to each bowl .
It needs to form into a stiff dough (people say to think of what an ear lope feels like and this is what dango should feel like when you press it). You may need to add one more half tablespoons of each flour to each bowl to get this texture. I like to add it in stages like this so you get the correct consistency and you can use your judgment as you go rather than weighing it out and tipping it all in at once.
Make your dough into three separate log shapes and section so you can make equal sized balls of each colour.
Heat up a large pan of boiling water and drop your white and pink dango balls into the boiling water, when they float to the top give them a one extra minute and they are done.
Scoop them out using a strainer and drop them into iced water for 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate lined with parchment so they don’t stick and do the same again to the final matcha dumplings so no colour runs.
Take each ball and begin to slide them onto skewers. Remember to start with sliding on the green first then white and finally pink. If you would like to store your Dango you can pack them in an airtight container and keep at room temperature for 24 hours. You can also freeze the dango for about a month, so it’s nice to make plenty and freeze them in advance. When you want to eat them thaw them naturally at room temperature.
I’ve displayed the dango here in a dish shaped like a hagoita (羽子板) which is a paddle used in a game with a shuttlecock a bit like badminton. The game is called Hanetsuki (羽根突き) and was often a game played by girls. It was believed that playing the game would drive away evil spirits because the movement of the hagoita is similar to harau action a Japanese expression meaning to drive away. Thus playing hanetsuki with hagoita is often used as a charm against evil.
Tofu dango is sometimes served with kinako powder to dip them in or with anko sweet bean paste. I recently saw a wagashi store in Kanazawa called “Cafe Murakami” one I visited on my recent trip to Japan that serve up warm dipping chocolate with their Dango. I thought this was such a lovely idea. All you need is an oil burner with a night light candle. The store In Kanazawa used strawberry white chocolate in keeping with spring colours.
As I have no children it has also been suggested to me that girls day is a nice day to spend with girl friends or sisters. Maybe if you have no girl children you could plan a day out or go for a meal or celebrate women in general.
One of the best memories I have in my life is visiting Japan at Sakura season.
If you have never been lucky enough to witness it, seeing the blossom and the way people in Japan celebrate Hanami is just breathtaking.
I think I miss Japan the most at this time of year. I always like to celebrate Japanese customs and traditions it helps me feel close to Japan when I cannot be there.
How about making some tofu dango and sit with these and a bento under the blossoms and if like me you cannot be there just dream you are.