Dango (団子) are Japanese sweets made out of mochiko (もちこ), or glutinous rice flour, and water. Dango will often have a sauce or topping of some sort spread over them. Perhaps the most common type of dango is kushi dango (串団子), literally “stick dango,” which has about three or four sweet, doughy mochi on a bamboo skewer. Kushi dango is a sweet, convenient treat that’s very easy to eat.
Some form of dango has likely been around in Japan since the Jomon period, which dates back to 12,000 BC. The dango that we eat now, however, started to take shape around the 1700s, during the Edo period. Mitarashi dango (御手洗団子), one of the oldest types of modern dango, is believed to have gotten its start being used as an offering at the Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto during what was called the Mitarashi Festival, where the Mitarashi dango got it’s name. Festival-goers wade in the cold spring water in the pond, named the Mitarai pond, at the shrine hoping for good health for the rest of the year. Mitarashi dango is called such because the dango are supposed to resemble the bubbles that come out of the spring water.
In fact, it’s hard to mention a matsuri (祭り), or festival, without thinking about eating dango. Most matsuri that you can attend in Japan will have a vendor set up selling dango to festival attendees. Dango vendors can be found at any kind of matsuri, no matter how lively or quiet. They’re a very popular treat because they’re delicious and, because they’re attached to a skewer, they’re easy to eat when partaking in festival activities.
If you don’t want to wait until the next matsuri you can attend to indulge your dango craving, making dango at home is simple to do. The only things needed for dango are mochiko, sugar, water, and whatever kind of sauce or topping you’re planning on using to add more flavor. To start, you take your mochiko (about 100 grams for 12 dango) and sugar (about a tablespoon) and mix it together in a bowl. Add just enough water to knead the dough, then continue adding water and kneading until the texture of the dough is about as soft as your earlobe. After that, all you need to do is divide the dough into 12 even portions and shape them into balls, then gently drop them into boiling water for around 15 minutes. If you want some variety in your dango, you can add flavoring, such as matcha green tea powder into the sugar and mochiko mix to flavor your dango.
Mitarashi dango, sometimes called shouyu dango (しょうゆ団子) is covered in a sweet, slightly sticky soy sauce. The sauce is easy to make at home. Just put one tablespoon of soy sauce, one tablespoon of sugar, half a tablespoon of katakuriko (片栗粉), a type of potato starch, into a bowl over low heat and stir constantly until the sauce thickens. Another common topping is tsubu-an (つぶあん), a paste made from red beans, which can be conveniently purchased pre-made.
Asahi sells all the ingredients to make dango and its sauce that you might not be able to find elsewhere. We also sell pre-made dango ready to thaw and eat without the hassle. As we welcome in spring, why not grab some dango to get yourself into the festival mood?