Sunday, April 08, 2012

Hana Yori Dango - Dumplings Rather Than Flowers

Hana yori dango ("I'd rather have dumplings than flowers.") is a famous Japanese proverb. It means preferring practical things over aesthetically beautiful things. That said, you often hear it mumbled in the spring while people are spreading their plastic mats under the cherry trees and unpacking all the food and beer they've brought for the day-long picnic. I'm fairly sure their interpretation of the phrase is simply that they can't wait to dig in and eat and drink with friends and family.

And there you have my lame segue for introducing my favorite dumpling. The sasa dango.

First, the prefecture that made these bamboo grass dumplings famous is Niigata (Remember this. There will be a quiz later.). Pretty much they can be found just about anywhere, but I only seem to be able to get my hands on them in the spring. I'm guessing it has to do with all the cherry blossom viewing and the hana yori dango stuff.

This is what one looks like.

All wrapped up in bamboo grass leaves that both smell great and have anti-bacterial properties to boot.

So you undo the fancy, ingeniously-tied, vine and...

...inside you have the dumpling. A lump of sticky rice that's been mushed together with mugwort (sounds nasty, tastes divine).

And inside that is a glob of red bean paste.


Question: What prefecture is famous for sasa dango? (See, I told you there'd be a quiz.)

Yep! Niigata. So two years ago Niigata decided it needed a new image character (all good prefectures, cities, towns, wards, utility companies, schools, clubs, (Stop me!)... need an image character). And Niigata needed one as well. So they came up with Sasadagon!

This cute little critter.

He's got a webpage, a Twitter account, and a whole merchandising army behind him. In case you were curious, his favorite food is ramen. He's left handed. In his spare time he likes to take walks, drive his car, and go on blind dates. There's a huge Wikipedia page dedicated to him in Japanese too. It's all very ... thorough.

But since he represents one of my favorite Japanese treats I think he's just grand.

I still haven't figured out the fangs yet...