September 18, 2013
Japan has a wonderful fall tradition known as otsukimi (お月見) or Moon Festival, which celebrates both the moon and promise of a good harvest for the year. Besides otsukimi, it’s also called chushu no meigetu or jyugoya. The custom is believed to have originated in China.
In the year 909, the Emperor hosted the first recorded celebration of the festival in Japan. In the beginning, the festival was reserved for the nobility. This changed during the Edo period (1600-1800s) and now the Moon Festival belongs to everyone.
Traditionally, otsukimi falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of our calendar, which is the 15th of September. But now we celebrate this custom during the September full moon. This year it falls on the 19th, this Thursday.
For otsukimi, we traditionally make rice dumplings called otsukimi dango; shaped like the full-moon, of course. When I was a kid, the shape and texture made the dango so attractive and welcoming that I begged for a taste. I was told to wait until the following day, after the ceremony was complete. A day later the dango had become drier and harder, which was not so welcoming anymore.
Recently I found a great suggestion: by adding tofu, the dango becomes softer and more moist. Yes, even the next day.
1 cup shitaramako (Japanese rice flour)
1 cup tofu (silken or regular)
1. Mix shiratamako and tofu until smooth (we say, “Until it feels like your earlobe”).
2. Make balls about 1-1.5 inches in diameter.
3. Boil dango for about 5 minutes.
4. Drain dango and put in ice water.
5. Drain and done!
Otsukimi dango is simple and delicious by itself but also good with kinako (toasted soybean flour) or anko (azuki bean stewed with sugar) like below.
Other food customs for otsukimi are satoimo (sweet potato) and kuri (chestnuts) that are placed on an alter as an offering to the moon.
Enjoy watching the full moon tomorrow!
*Yuki HD is a Tokyo native with deep roots in izakaya-style home cooking. She currently makes her home in the southwestern United States where the foods of many cultures meet and mingle. Kuishinbo means “rigorous eater” in Japanese. Eat up!