Hanami Dango (花見団子)
みんなさんこんにちは！（Hello, everyone!) Hanami dango holds a special significance for me, and it’s been a blast (of nostalgia!) to organize this recipe with the help of Jaclyn DeMarzo, our Youth & Outreach Program Coordinator, whom you’ve already met in our inaugural installment of Morikami Makes. Japanese language and culture have been a fixation of mine since I was very young, which led me to study Japanese all through college and participate in the JET Programme from 2013–2014. I lived in Hokkaidō for a year, which is the coldest region of Japan—a shocking change for a Miami girl like me! Hokkaidō’s hanami season is dead last, as it is the last prefecture to warm up, but I was exposed to hanami dango well before spring.
I first encountered it at a hyaku-en shop, or dollar store, during my first weekend in Japan in the sweltering heat of August. I had no idea what its significance was, but I recognized it immediately from the dango emoji. I later had it in the correct context—a cherry blossom viewing party! It paired deliciously with a cup of hot green tea. As I ate my hanami dango and the cherry blossoms swayed in the breeze, I knew that moment would become my favorite memory of Japan.
Hanami dango is a rice paste dessert named after the popular Japanese tradition of hanami (花見), literally flower viewing. Hanami dates back to the Nara Period (710–794) or possibly Heian Period (794–1185 A.D), and remains a beloved national pastime today. Hanami gatherings usually take place around late March in Kyūshū, the southernmost (and hottest) prefecture of Japan, and as late as mid-May in the northernmost (and coldest) prefecture, Hokkaidō. No matter what prefecture you choose for hanami, however, the blossoms only last for a week or two.
Hanami dango is distinguished from other varieties of dango—such as mitarashi dango, which is served with a savory sauce—by its subtly sweet flavor and three iconic colors. In hanami dango, the pink represents the cherry blossoms during hanami season, the white represents the remaining snow on the ground, and green represents the grass beginning to sprout in Spring.
The proverb hana yori dango (花より団子), or “dango rather than flowers” points to dango’s popularity—most people attend cherry blossom viewing parties for the food rather than the flowers!
(Makes approximately 8 dango skewers)
1 package of dango flour, 220 g (usually labeled dangoko, or だんご粉)
160~190 mL of water
3~4 tbsp of confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon of matcha (green tea) powder
1 teaspoon of strawberry powder/drink mix (e.g. Nesquik)
1 pot of boiling water
1 bowl of cold water
1 pack of thin wooden skewers
2. Add 3–4 tbsp of confectioner’s sugar to mixture.
3. Divide mixture into 3 bowls. The texture should be slightly sticky, but should not be sticky enough that it stays on your hands, or dry enough that it crumbles. If the consistency is correct, the dough should be easy to shape into 1-inch balls.
4. Set the first bowl aside; these will be your white dango.
5. Add 1 tsp of matcha powder to the second bowl, and 1 tsp of strawberry powder to the third bowl–these will be your green and pink dango.
6. Mix thoroughly, constantly checking the texture. Add water, teaspoon by teaspoon, if the mixture is too dry. Be careful not to add too much water!
7. Shape all of the dough into 1-inch balls, as you wait for your pot of water to a gentle boil.
8. Carefully drop dango into boiling water. If your pot is small, cook them in batches to avoid over-crowding the pot. Pro tip: It is best to cook the white dango first, then the pink, and the green last, in order to avoid staining all of them green.
9. As soon as your dango begin to float, they are ready to cool!
10. Drop cooked dango into the bowl of cold water and let them soak for 10 minutes. As they cool, make sure that they have a “slippery” texture and are not too firm.
11. Arrange your dango on the skewers in this order: pink on top, white in the middle, and green on the bottom.
12. Enjoy on a beautiful spring day with hot or iced green tea! ^__^