Blog, Spring Food

Sanshoku 三色団子 Tofu Three Colour Dango For Hinamatsuri

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.

Blog, Spring Food

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Season 1 Episode 1 Nabekko Dango & Tomato Curry

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House

舞妓さんちのまかないさん A series on Netflix about Food & Friendship set in a Maiko house in Kyoto.

Photo Credit: The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House, 2023. Netflix

From acclaimed filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda

Adapted from the manga series “Kiyo in Kyoto”by Aiko Koyama,

Season 1 episode 1


Two 16-year-old inseparable friends Kiyo and Sumire leave their town in their home city of Aomori after seeing maiko, (apprentice geishas or geiko, as it is called in Kyoto) in the street on a school trip.

Leaving behind Kiyo’s supportive grandmother and their baseball player buddy Kenta, the two girls head to Kyoto on a bus warm baked sweet potatoes in hand to chase their dreams of training as maiko.

We join them as they adjust to life in the maiko house. A communal all female Saku House living quarters where this story takes place. They call each other mothers and sisters despite having no blood relations to each other.

Sumire is a natural and embraces life as a trainee, Kiyo however is clumsy and finds she is not suited to life as a trainee maiko.

Ms Sachiko, who is the house makanai when they first arrive sees Kiyo’s enthusiasm and interest in food and takes her under her wing. Makanai means both the cook and the meal served in the boarding house or other place of work.

Ms Sachiko is forced to leave to rest a back injury, Kiyo then finds her passion as she steps in to be the in house’s Makanai. The two girls decide to pursue different passions while living under the same roof. Sumire in the pursuit of being a “one-in-a-million” maiko and Kiyo starts to prepare the meals for all the women who reside there. She seams effortlessly happy and engaged with her work enjoying grocery shopping and deciding what meals to cook that will appeal to everyone from different regions of japan with their own distinct food cultures and various levels of seasoning. What I like the most is the sense of nostalgia in the series with humble, home cooked freshly prepared nourishing food. Kiyo even says “nice to meet you” to her ingredients as she begins each day.

It also relates to something I’ve spoken about in my blog post “Natsukashii & Ofukuro no aji” A taste of home.

Ofukuro no aji which translates “Mothers Taste Meal “. Linked to family relationships these are Japanese home cooked meals that your mother used to make. Eating them later in life can bring back memories and comforts from home. Natsukashii (an adjective) derived from the Japanese verb Natsuku which means to become familiar with. The word is used to express emotion, fondness and gratitude for the past in a kind of nostalgic way.
I think when we are talking about food we can relate to Natsukashii, like sounds and smell can bring back memories so can taste.

You may know I have adapted quite a few recipes from the “Midnight Diner” series and thought this a wonderful opportunity to make not only these humble Japanese home style cooked meals but to make them vegan. (Some are already vegan)

At the beginning of the first episode it starts on snowy Aomori and Kiyos grandmother is making nabekko dumplings in red bean soup a local traditional dish in the southern area of Aomori Prefecture. So what makes this dish different to zenzai ? Well it’s mainly down to the dango the dango balls are pressed in the middle to look like a nabe (pot). They are also made from kneaded non glutinous rice flour.

(Joshinko (上新粉). It is made from milled short grain rice which has been washed, dried, and ground down into flour, whereas mochiko and shiratamako are both made from glutinous rice.

Kiyos grandmother makes the dish as a good luck meal before Kiyo and Sumire leave on their journey, however this meal is often made as an offering to Agricultural Gods during celebrations, such as “Tenorie,” a festival praying for a good harvest after the completion of the rice-planting.  It’s a comforting sweet dish perfect on a cold day.

Let’s make nabekko dumplings in red bean soup

You will need :

For red bean soup

200g of azuki

1/4 teaspoon of salt

200g of granulated sugar

200ml of water for cooking

For nabekko dango dumplings:

100g of Joshinko non glutinous rice flour

Around 100ml of just boiled hot water


  1. Wash the azuki beans and place them in a pot with just enough water to cover, and bring it to a boil. When the water turns red, drain and discard the water. Replace water and repeat this process a second time.
  2. Place the parboiled beans and the measured 200ml of water over heat. When the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45-60 minutes until beans become tender.

Make your nabekko dango

Add Joshinko flour to a bowl and gradually start to add the hot water until everything comes together into a dough a little firmer than and earlobe. Form into a log shape and cut into sections to roll into balls.

When you have rolled them into balls push your thumb in the middle to make your nabe shape.

Continue simmering your azuki beans adding more water if needed when they are tender mix in the salt and sugar and simmer further for five minutes. Then drop in your dango. Let the dango cook adding more water if needed to make a nice soup consistency. The dango May take at least 15 minutes to cook though properly.

Serve in your favourite bowl.

Later, on the bus to Kyoto, Kiyo shares with Sumire the baked sweet potato their close friend Kenta gave them as a snack for the journey, the girls fall into grateful giggles. You can find the recipe for these on my recipe pages (Yaki Imo).

Finally from episode one I decided to make the tomato curry that was kiyos grandmothers recipe. She makes the curry while visiting Ms Sachiko the former Makanai. You see her using a method of removing the skin from tomatoes that I’ve shown before in my poached tomato recipe. Scoring a cross in the skin and dropping the tomatoes into boiling water boil for a few minutes until the skin starts to come away . Drop the tomatoes into ice cold water you will find then the skin is easily removed.

Adding tomato to the curry adds a sweetness to the curry instead of adding something like honey or apple which is common in Japanese style curry.

As the curry normally has some kind of meat as an ingredient you could use something like soy protein as a meat substitute, you could also use seitan or in my case this time I used Maitake mushrooms.

This is how I made Vegan tomato curry inspired by The Makanai.

x2 tomatoes

First skin your tomatoes as explained above. Then cut into quarters.

Then you will need:

x1-2 carrots chopped in to wedges

x1 medium white onion sliced finely

x2 potatoes peeled and cut into chunks

Some maitake mushrooms . ( if using soy protein reconstitute this in water and squeeze out liquid before adding to the curry. You can also use seitan.

One of the most important aspects of making Japanese curry is to sauté the onions until they are caramelized, which can take up to 20 minutes. Most of the curries from Asian countries are prepared by sautéing the onion until translucent only. The onions should be cut into thin slices so that they can caramelise quickly.

When you onions are nice and browned add potatoes meat substitute and carrots then add water to cover and simmer for around 15 minutes.

While they are cooking make your curry roux.

Curry Roux

You can use curry roux cubes but I wanted to make this how I thought was more in keeping with how Kiyo might of made. This recipe uses S&B Japanese curry spice powder.

A traditional blend of natural herbs and spices for Japanese curry. This curry powder is fantastic for making Japanese style curry from scratch. Ingredients Turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, cumin, orange peel, pepper, chill pepper, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, star anise, thyme, bay leaves, cloves, nutmeg, sage, cardamon.

Heat 60g of butter over low heat in a pan.

Add the equal amount of sifted flour and stir constantly. Let the butter combine with the flour, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes until it turns to medium brown. Keep stirring so that the roux will not stick to the pan. Keep the heat low so that the butter does not burn.

Add two heaped teaspoons or one tablespoon of the S&B Japanese curry spice powder and mix well until it forms a thick paste.

Add the paste to your vegetables and stir to thicken adding  extra water if needed to get your desired thickness of sauce.

Finally add your tomatoes. I like to add those last so they don’t turn into mush, it’s nice to keep some of the form of the tomatoes.

Cook until the tomatoes are soft and then serve with Japanese rice and vegetables if you like. Serving like this will feed at least x4 people.

More recipes to come in my next The Makanai blog.

If you haven’t already watched it yet The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is available for streaming on Netflix. 

Blog, Spring Food

Valentines Day Ichigo Daifuku いちご大福

Will you be giving a valentine treat to someone this year?

In Japan it’s just the men that get the gifts off the women on February 14th, and it’s not just loved ones that are given gifts, it’s co-workers, school and college friends teachers you name it ! It can be quite a big task giving gifts to all your male friends . That’s a lot of chocolate! and some people make their own.

This year I decided to make a firm favourite at this time of year seeing as it’s peek strawberry season in Japan,chocolate ichigo daifuku! In Japanese ichigo いちご means strawberry.

I was inspired by seeing rows of these soft sweet  mochi in wagashi stores in japan.

I remember buying one in Kyoto from a lovely old wagashi store when I was on my way to one of my favourite sakura spots Hirano shrine. You can follow my walking tour 2 in Kyoto under my travel section to visit some more favourite spots.

Recipe for choco ichigo daifuku makes x5

You will need:

100g of Joshinko flour .

(Joshinko (上新粉) is a Japanese non-glutinous rice flour. As Joshinko consists of non-glutinous rice, the cake/dumpling using it is not so sticky. Instead, they have a pleasant, chewy bite. Even though it’s common to use Shiratamako flour I like the smooth texture of the Joshinko and find it’s easy to work with.

x1 tablespoon of granulated sugar

130ml of water

x2 teaspoons of raw cacao powder

Potato starch to dust the surface

For the filling :

x5 strawberries with the core removed

Bean paste Anko (餡子) (you can use smooth Koshian (こしあん) or chunky Tsubuan (粒あん) what ever you prefer.)

You will also need some powdered icing sugar for dusting if you wish, a microwaveable bowl and compostable cling film.


Make x5 small balls of bean paste and put aside

Core your strawberries and put aside.

Add Joshinko flour to a bowl add sugar and cacao powder and mix then add your water and whisk well to combine add a little extra water if you think it’s too thick it should have a batter consistency.

Cover the bowl with cling film and microwave for 4 mins. Remove from the microwave and pound your mochi with a pestle. When it’s smooth and elastic tip the mochi out onto a slightly damp surface dampen your hands a little as well and knead the mochi.

Dust a different surface lightly with potato starch.

When your mochi is nice and stretchy place on your dusted surface and form into a log shape and cut five equal pieces.

Take each piece and roll into a ball then flatten in your hands. Put a bean paste ball in the middle of your flattened mochi and fold the mochi over the bean paste rolling it back into a ball. Dust each one with a little potato starch and do the same to the rest of the mochi.

Then make a cut across the top of the mochi balls so you can push a strawberry inside on the top. Dust with icing sugar and your done.

They are best eaten fresh on the day.

I have a few recipes to inspire you for Valentine’s Day on my recipe pages. Even if you do not make these to give away you can always make them for yourself as a treat.

Most of my inspiration for my recipes has always come from experiences on my travels to japan. I can’t wait to finally get back this year. It’s been a long wait.

Happy Valentine’s Day