3rd March, is Hinamatsuri 雛祭り or Girls’ Day in Japan. This is a day when families wish for the healthy growth and happiness of their girls. Hina dolls (of the emperor, his court officials and ladies), dressed in imperial Heian costume on a red-carpeted doll altar, are displayed from end of February to 3rd March. They must be taken down after the festival due to a superstition regarding the marriageability of the girls if left displayed. These dolls absorb the ill luck or bad fortune from the girls and it seems (probably influenced by an ancient Chinese tradition) some dolls are set loose down rivers to send away that ill fortune. Because it is also the Japanese Peach Blossom Festival (Momo-no Sekku 桃の節句), peach blossoms are often displayed with the dolls and offerings like shiro-sake and wagashi are placed together with the dolls on the carpeted stand. These offerings are later enjoyed by everyone.
Wagashi meant for this occasion, hishi-mochi, come in three colours of pink, white and green representing the pink of the peach blossoms, snow and new growth respectively. Not only is this symbolic for the blossoming of youthful girls, it marks the advent of Spring. Can’t help thinking about my favourite Hanami Dango, which also comes in those three colours, eaten at the Hanami Festival or cherry blossom viewing festival.
Hikichigiri is a traditional wagashi eaten on the day of Hinamatsuri (you can see what it looks like here). It reminds me a bit of a sea anemone! Although I don’t celebrate the festival and I very surely could not find hikichigiri in London, I was determined not to be left out of an excuse to eat wagashi anyway. A stop-on-impulse visit at Minamoto Kitchoan, previously blogged about here, meant four little wagashi treats to take home. I‘ve the oribenishiki to chase away autumn/winter, hinamonogatari just for Hinamatsuri, sakuradaifuku to welcome spring and the mitarashi dango to represent my eagerness for summer. Yes, each chosen wagashi has a season in mind!
Hinamonogatari 雛物語 – ‘Doll Story’ – A spring wagashi known as hina-arare ひなあられ for Hinamatsuri, or popped rice.
Seems these are only available during the festival so they are extra special, especially when you’ve got the picture of a hina doll on the packet! These rice crackers are made by frying dry steamed rice in hot oil before colouring them. They are so pretty to look at and like sugar puffs, are crispy and delicate. I dropped a few in some of my dango sauce (mitarashi dango below) and they even made the same crackling noise as rice krispies.
Flowers, tea, nature, paintings and the appreciation of all four are an important part of tea ceremony. This next one really got me thinking…
Oribenishiki 織部錦 – Adzuki and Chestnut Paste Kurimanjyu Cake dusted with fine sugar
I read up a little that the five-lobed compound leaf on the cake’s brown top is an indicator of the adzuki bean and chestnut inside. But I wasn’t convinced and thought the leaf and subsequent three leaves beneath it represented something else. In terms of the name, I discovered a few interesting things:
Oribe is a reference to Furuta Oribe (1544-1615), a famous 16th century tea master who was a favourite student of Sen no Rikyū, both of whom were important contributors to the Japanese tea ceremony chado. Oribe founded the Oribe school of tea ceremony which is still in practise today in Japan. He became famous as a tea master after the death of Sen Rikyū, and became the tea ceremony instructor for the second shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada. He changed the tea ceremony from a style suited to merchants to one adapted to the samurai. He also developed the Oribe gonomi (Oribe taste) with novel designs of pottery (all a little out of shape, wonky-looking or chipped with shades of green and yellow), stone lanterns, and so on with a style that stressed utility and a beauty simple, humble and unassuming.
Nishiki in the name might refer to the richly coloured brocade of Japanese kimono or the Higo Yamato Nishiki (a type of camellia flower often seen on kimono and its name meaning ‘Old Brocade of Japan’). Camellia is symbolic of the advent of spring and is also largely associated with chabana – a branch of flower arrangement during tea ceremony championed by Rikyū. The cake definitely doesn’t show a camellia flower and its pattern of a 5 compound leaf rather than say a maple leaf really confused me and how it had any relation to brocade, kimono or tea ceremony but part of me thinks it might refer to the tranquility and simplistic beauty (reminder: Oribe philosophy) which even leaves must and also do deliver. Correct me if I’m wrong or share with me your thoughts on this. I’d greatly appreciate it.
So there was my rather Zen and intellectual moment with a cake and a cup of tea. Bet you guys don’t often do that with sweets, now do you? I admit if you put a cupcake in front of me or a good fruit slice or scone, there’ll be no pondering and appreciation of the seasons/nature. Just gobble gobble and swallow.
Moving away from that autumn/winter treat though, come end of March, it’s all about sakura in Japan. Joy to spring and the blossoming of flowers. That would surely put a smile on my face once this awful grey just goes away (even if only for a little while).
Sakuradaifuku 櫻大福 – Mochi with Sakura Shiro-an Filling coated in taro starch – another spring wagashi
A strong perfume of sakura is unleashed once you open the packet and as you bite into this, the perfume is always there gently wafting about you, making it such a delightful sweet to enjoy which tantalizes all the senses as wagashi is supposed to do. Although this is different from sakuramochi whether in ball form or East Japan’s crepe rolled-form then wrapped in a sakura leaf, I believe the flavours are quite similar. Sakura leaves are pickled in salt water before use in this and there is a strong combination of sweet savouryness in the shiro-an or white-bean paste filling. I think this has got to be a new favourite daifuku of mine because I’ve never actually managed to taste sakura as pure and strong as in this shiro-anko filling.
Shiro-an is made from navy beans or lima beans. I was very pleased to see a variation from the usual anko or red adzuki bean filling. The mochi surrounding the filling was coloured a very light pale pink with bits of crushed sakura kneaded into it. What a pretty sight and of course with daifuku, it’s name literally meaning ‘big or great luck’, I can’t help thinking that a lot of luck and fortune might be coming my way now that most of this has been consumed!
Mitarashi Dango 御手洗 団子 – Japanese mochiko dumpling with a soy sauce and sugar syrup
Although my favourite kind of dango is the hanami dango, I do love the caramel-ish coloured soy sugar syrup in this. With my penchant for sweet and savoury together, it’s hard to say no to this. This variation of dango is often eaten at the summer Mitarashi Festival – a purification festival – and traditionally offered to the gods at Shimogamo shrine. Hence, the name 御手洗: ‘honourable washing of hands’.
To celebrate, I made my own mitarashi dango too according to this recipe here which is so simple to follow with clear photographed instructions. I loved the mitarashi sauce but found I had to add a bit more potato starch. I like my sauce not so drippy but real thick and gooey. Also, as you can see from the difference in colour between Minamoto Kitchoan’s and mine, mine’s a lot ‘thinner’ and less caramel brown. That’s because that photograph was taken after the first dipping/coating of the sauce.
Leaving the dango on the skewers to cool a little more to room temperature after cooking, drizzling and coating with mitarashi sauce at intervals lets the sauce set better around the dango. You’ll get a darker colour than the initial thin light-coloured appearance. I didn’t grill them as the recipe called for and although it is actually a lot tastier when grilled, as you would normally find them if you bought them from the store, again my kitchen fails me. Or rather my kitchen utensil-poverty limited me. But it’s actually fine to leave them as it is up to the boiled stage. It lacks that extra grilled x-factor but together with the sauce, and left for a bit to cool and set, these dango sticks are just amazing treats for everyone.
These were consumed without any more cracking of the head and name deconstruction, thankfully. Might stay off informative posts for a while as this one really sapped me dry. Off to nom on a few more dango bits.
25 Responses to “Minamoto Kitchoan II: Happy Girls’ Day & Mitarashi Dango”
Laura at Hungry and FrozenLaura at Hungry and Frozen Says:
March 2nd, at 6:45 pm
Nice that you could participate culinarily, even if you don’t celebrate Girls’ Day. Sounds like an interesting tradition (although the dolls floating down the river sounds a little unsettling!) Loved reading about all the intricate flavours and meanings. Next time I have tea and cake I’m going to think a bit more about it too 🙂
March 2nd, at 8:31 pm
Laura at Hungry and Frozen: yes i think the ancient tradition, following the Chinese one, was to float paper dolls apparently. But i remember it as wishes sealed in paper boats down a river which makes it a whole less unsettling. I suppose we just all have this fear of dolls now though! They creep me out! Glad you liked the post. I’m not good with being informative about food. I feel a bit like a robot and utterly boring! :p xx
Sarah, Maison CupcakeSarah, Maison Cupcake Says:
March 2nd, at 8:41 pm
You used to be able to get those little coloured sugar puffs when I was kid, I think they were called “Rainbow Drops” and they tasted like breakfast cereal. I haven’t seen them for years.
Found some here:
Those other sweets look very interesting, I’m especially interested in soya sauce caramel.
March 2nd, at 9:31 pm
I love how you put in the effort to find out about the story behind the food you eat. I am completely the opposite! I just eat. And when I have time to ponder the origins of whatever I’ve just eaten, I reach for some other snack. 😛
I need to visit Minamoto Kitchoan, it’s been waaay too long!
March 3rd, at 10:02 am
oh this is amazing stuff. i love reading about the japanese culture and traditions. davina you’ve made me very happy with this post!
March 3rd, at 10:17 am
So many things I had no idea about. What an interesting post Davina; loved the treats 🙂
March 3rd, at 10:28 am
I love dango. Obsessed with sweet and soy flavour profiles right now!
March 3rd, at 10:54 am
The dango looks like fishballs 🙂
All the tempting sweet treats *drools*
March 3rd, at 11:01 am
tigerfish: when I was making them I thought the same thing! Reminded me so much of fried fishballs on a stick!
ScottCanCook: ah thank you for visiting 😀 and yes, sweet savoury flavours are irresistible!
March 3rd, at 12:08 pm
Mitarashi Dango … you made such pretty and intriguing stuff Davina. Loved the history and story behind it. Great pictures and nice welcome to Spring sugah! BTW, did BBC say when the pink lady’s gonna visit the UK?
[email protected]@BakersRoyale Says:
March 3rd, at 4:24 pm
These look divine. Thanks for giving us such detailed photos and the rich history of it.
food librarianfood librarian Says:
March 3rd, at 4:42 pm
OMG! What a great post! Happy Girls Day! I bought some sakura mochi last night to celebrate and posted about it on my blog. But your post is so educational and covers all the great sweets. Thanks! – mary the food librarian
March 3rd, at 10:42 pm
These 雛祭り treats looks おいしい！ What is the greeting said amongs girls on GIRLS DAY?
Mowie @ MowieliciousMowie @ Mowielicious Says:
March 3rd, at 11:22 pm
Darling, you always have the most interesting, fascinating and exotic posts – i love them – gorgeous! I always learn so much and come out of it feeling inspired!
March 4th, at 4:00 am
you eat the prettiest foods girl! your home made mitarashi dango are gorgeous 🙂
March 4th, at 7:08 am
I want them all!!!
Is the hinamonogatari sweet? I need to make those mitarashi dango, stat.
March 4th, at 9:14 am
Dear Sugar Bar, your post on girls day in Japan was most amusing. I love the mitarashi dango. I noticed all the foods were very girlie too. Awesome celebration! OMG! Incredible presentation. Loved your site, very professional. Photos were crisp and clear. Mitarashi recipes concise and easy to read. I shall be back for a bite of more.
Thank you for sharing.
You can visit me at http://ptsaldari.posterous.com
March 4th, at 10:16 am
ジャニファー: Hi there I’m not too sure about the greeting but from the song ‘Ureshi Hinamatsuri’ meaning Happy Hinamatsuri, it might be that!
Manggy: hinamonogatari is sweet yes! Think rice crispies cereal that’s frosted sweet – it’s very similar. Dango’s so yum. I’ve got 4 sticks left in the fridge! Woot.
Gaby: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I feel encouraged with your kind words.
Kitchen ButterflyKitchen Butterfly Says:
March 4th, at 7:13 pm
SO, put this down as something to bring, to share with us at FBC . Superb….they look so yum!
Lorraine @ Not Quite NigellaLorraine @ Not Quite Nigella Says:
March 5th, at 12:47 am
Aww just gorgeous! I remember seeing everyone dressed up in Japan and they all looked so pretty! 🙂 Diva darling, if I ask very nicely may I have some mochi? It looks so good!
Carolyn JungCarolyn Jung Says:
March 5th, at 2:10 am
Those lovely rice crackers look like pastel confetti. So pretty and delicate. Beautiful pics, as always!
Xiaolu @ 6 BittersweetsXiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets Says:
March 5th, at 5:19 am
I’ve been dying to try dango. This all looks very yummy.
Tangerine FairyTangerine Fairy Says:
March 5th, at 3:29 pm
I just came across your blog and I’m amazed! This sounds like a cool tradition..I went through a few posts; You have a fabulous life!!! 😀
March 6th, at 5:04 am
A Happy Girls’ Day? That sounds an excellent thing to celebrate. I just learnt a whole lot of things reading your post.
Thanks for that.
Its interesting how a lot of cultures celebrate the same thing in different ways.
March 11th, at 10:40 pm
Aw DIVA BEAUTIFUL!!! I love happy girls’ day 🙂 Those dango sticks look off the chain and the pictures are absolutely stunning, if only I could have some of that delicious gooey goodness right now. MMMM HMMM!