Traditional Japanese Sweets in May
Starting from April 29 is Golden Week, a week of national holidays in Japan which include Constitution Day, Greenery Day, and Children's Day; making May one of the busiest months of the year in Japan. They have a “Tango no Sekku” custom to pray for well-being and healthy growth of boys on 5 May, Children's Day. The types of food that come with the season are also exciting to look forward to. There are two kinds of wagashi (Japanese sweets) eaten during this “Tango no Sekku”.
This sweet originally came from China; in the past, it was invented to commend the death of a famous poet, who drowned himself into the river on 5 May. To prevent the fish from eating his body, the local people wrapped chimaki made of glutinous rice with bamboo leaves and threw them into the river. There are two kinds of chimaki in Japanese cuisine, sweet and meaty. Let’s know more about the differences!
Meaty vs. Sweet Chimaki
Not all fillings are the same! Sweet chimaki has sweet red bean filling, while meaty chimaki has meat and vegetable filling. They usually use chicken and pork for the meat; and mushrooms, carrots, chestnuts, and bamboo shoots for the vegetable filling.
Zongzi: Chinese Version of Chimaki
As I said before, chimaki is originally from China, whose culture largely influenced and spread to Japan since the Heian period. It is also made from glutinous rice (mochi rice in Japanese) which some filling is kneaded in. Different from Japanese chimaki, zongzi is usually wrapped in triangular-based pyramid shapes, and tied with plant stems. Every province in China has its own version of Zongzi, such as Beijing Zongzi, Guangxi Zongzi, Guangdong Zongzi, and Shanghai Zongzi. Northerns areas serve it sweet while southern areas serve it spicy. They usually use fatty pork, chestnut, ham, lotus roots, etc. as filling. You will be able to find these as well in other countries, such as Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.
Making chimaki is not as complicated as one might think. Here are some steps to make your own chimaki:
- Wash and rinse the glutinous rice (mochi rice in Japan) a few times.
- Soak it in water overnight.
- Wrap it nice along with banana or bamboo leaves.
- Secure each chimaki with twine.
- Steam the chimaki for 50 minutes or until fully cooked.
It is an authentic Japanese sweet (round-shaped mochi cake) which is made with glutinous rice flour and filled with sweet red beans. Its name of kashiwamochi comes from the use of the kashiwa leaf (Japanese Oak leaf). Please notice that you cannot eat the leaf as it is not edible!
Making your own kashiwamochi will be such an interesting experience! Here are the steps to make it!
- Heat the red beans into a saucepan to thicken the bean paste.
- Mix the glutinous rice flour and water in a bowl, then cover the bowl.
- Put it in a microwave on full heat for 4 minutes.
- Remove from the microwave, mix its contents again, then heat it again for 3 minutes.
- Then you should have a nice solid dough.
- Knead the dough until it is as soft and smooth as possible.
- Split it into 8 pieces.
- Take the sweet red bean paste, place it onto the dough pieces, then fold the dough over and seal around the edge.
- At last, wrap up each with an oak leaf once it has cooled down.