Welcome to The Avocado’s weekly discussion of Japanese pop culture! The weather where I live is perfectly miserable right now, but it is technically spring, which means more than just a new anime season. In Japan, it also means cherry blossoms! And with cherry blossoms comes the wonderful hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, tradition. It’s very likely that you’ve seen this tradition depicted in anime and manga, so this week I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of the food commonly eaten while viewing these beautiful trees.
First, here’s a short article describing hanami. The author of the article, Makiko Itoh, is the source of all of my bento recipes, but she also writes a good deal about Japanese culture in general. Which is to say, you should expect to see me featuring a lot of her writing in these threads because I’m a big fan. In fact, here’s another article right now that discusses some of the food that is commonly found at food stalls at hanami gatherings. One of my favorite aspects of hanami is, as Itoh writes, that it emphasizes “a deep appreciation for the changes of the seasons.” I love the changing of the seasons, and over the last year I’ve been trying to do something special to commemorate these changes. This year, with everything else happening and the not great weather here, I decided to make something special that is sometimes eaten while viewing the cherry blossoms to brighten my mood and make me feel more “springy”: Mitarashi Dango!
What is Mitarashi Dango? Well, they’re a kind of rice dumpling covered in a delicious, sweet and salty sauce. You’ve probably seen plenty of anime and manga characters eating them at festivals. And if you’ve seen Rilakkuma and Kaoru, then you already know all about hanami because Kaoru makes a hanami bento and eats dango in the first episode.
I’ve never made dango before, but it wasn’t very difficult. I tried a couple different recipes, got some advice from our very own romanes eunt domus, and found this recipe to be the best for the dumplings and this one to be the best for the sauce. I wasn’t able to get Johshinko or Shiratamako but my substitutions of Bob’s Red Mill White Rice Flour and Bob’s Red Mill Sweet White Rice Flour worked really well, I think.1 If you want to read more about my attempts and see some photos of the finished products, click on the button!
One problem I ran into was that I don’t have a grill pan or really any way to grill the dango properly. I tried the method of putting them under the broiler, but that just resulted in nearly catching the sticks on fire.2 The first batch, made using the Just Hungry recipe, didn’t turn out great partly because of that.
But the second batch, using the Just One Cookbook recipe and a smarter “grilling” method, turned out great! This time I simply put some of the dumplings in a pan and crisped them up a bit before putting them on the sticks. The sauce wasn’t quite thick enough, but they tasted much better. I put the rest in the freezer to eat later.
If the weather actually was nice, I might have tried making a hanami bento like Kaoru makes to have a little picnic to properly welcome spring. Maybe I’ll try again in a few weeks. If you have nice weather now, and the ingredients, here are two easy bento ideas you can try to make for a picnic: Pink, Green and Yellow Spring Bento and Picnic Bento with Chicken Lollipops and Gift-Wrapped Onigiri.
Alright, I hope you enjoyed reading a little about hanami and about my adventures in Mitarashi Dango making! Have you ever made dango? Or seen them or the hanami tradition depicted in anime and manga? If you’ve actually participated in the cherry blossom viewing, I’d love to hear about that too!
And as always…
What have you been watching/reading/playing/eating/listening to lately?
Happy Wednesday! 🙂