One of Japan’s most beloved sweets is “dango（sweet rice dumpling）”. Their chewy texture and lovely, ball-like presentation make this traditional treat a favourite among Japanese of all ages. This time, we will be sharing with you essential information on dango, from their role as a traditional food staple to popular variations of the sweet.
Dango refers to the Japanese sweet made from flour made of grain, such as rice, mixed with water, shaped into small balls, and subsequently boiled. They can be covered in soybean powder or dipped in soy sauce or coated with red bean paste. There are also other variations of dango, such as kushi-dango, which consists of two to three dango on a skewer. The similarly textured “mochi”, on the other hand, are made from steamed mochi rice and eaten to celebrate special occasions, including the New Year, and for good luck. Although dango and mochi are fundamentally made differently, some regions of Japan interestingly use them interchangeably.
Dango are also used in traditional events. For example, on a day called “Juugoya”, which falls on August 15th of the old calendar (in modern times it is set to fall on the night of a full moon sometime between mid-September to mid-October), rice flour is used to make the traditional “Tsukimi-dango” (literal means moon-viewing dango) and shaped to replicate a full moon.
During “Hinamatsuri”, a festive day to pray for and celebrate one’s daughter’s health and growth, on 3rd March, the locals often eat “sanshoku-dango” which are a type of kushi-dango (skewered dango)made from three colours: white, pink, and green. During “Obon”, beginning in mid-August, Japanese prepare dango with red bean paste and sweet soy sauce called “omukae-dango” (literal means “dango for welcoming”) for the tired spirits of their ancestors who have come far from the afterlife to visit. On the last day of Obon, white dango called “okuri-dango” (literal means “dango for sending off”) are prepared as a souvenir to send their ancestors off to the afterlife once more.
Although dango are deeply rooted in Japanese tradition, in recent times, they have become more of a casual snack that you can find at festivals, convenience stores and supermarkets. Perhaps the most popular varieties are “mitarashi-dango”, a sweet yet tangy soy sauce covered kushi-dango, “azuki-dango” which are coated with sweet red bean paste, and “yaki-dango” that are covered in soy sauce and cooked over an open flame.Other varieties include soybean powder-covered “kinako-dango” and “kurogoma-dango” which are covered in a sweet sauce with black sesame seeds. There is even a dango called “kusa-dango” (literally “grass” dango) made with boiled Japanese mugwort leaves.
There are numerous Japanese sweets stores famous for their dango throughout Japan.
Tokyo's Shibamata area has many kusa-dango shops. Monzen Toraya which is located on the road to Shibamata Teishakuten, you can find a kusa-dango shop founded in the 20th year of the Meiji Period. This particular shop uses azuki beans from Hokkaido to create their slightly sweet, homemade red bean paste.
Niigata prefecture's Eguchi Dango main store is also famous for its kusa-dango.
You can leisurely enjoy their dango while taking in the traditional atmosphere of the shop's interior, which was renovated from a 100-year-old Japanese-style house.
We recommend their five traditional dango: red bean, matcha, black sesame seed, sweet soy sauce, and seaweed.
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