Celebrate Children’s Day with a snack that’s sure to please.
Walking through an Asian supermarket around this time of year, you might spot some mysterious green packets wrapped in a leaf and tied with twine. They may not even seem edible, and you might mistake them for festive decorations. But not only are these things edible, they’re a favourite snack on Children’s Day in Japan, which is coming up on May 5.
Known as chimaki, this treat is made with glutinous rice with a variety of other ingredients that also depend on whether the chimaki is sweet or savoury. The sweet variety usually contains a type of gelatin made from sweet red beans, known as yokan. The savoury variety (also called Chinese chimaki) is made with meat, like chicken or pork, and vegetables such as mushrooms, burdock root or bamboo shoots. The filling is packed in the rice and then wrapped in a bamboo leaf and steamed, resulting in a tasty packet that can be enjoyed as a snack, side dish or dessert.
Chimaki is particularly enjoyed as a part of Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day. On this day, boys and girls across Japan gather with their families to snackon chimaki and wish for prosperity and good health. Children’s Day is one of the holidays in spring that makes up what is now known as Golden Week, a series of holidays that all fall within the same week in May.
If you’ve seen chimaki in the supermarket but mistaken it for some kind of decoration, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong as it is sometimes used as décor. Customarily, however, Children’s Day decorations consist of flags resembling koi fish, each with a different colour or size to represent each member of the family. Japanese families will often hang these outside their homes, but you can find them displayed in other areas too. Families also sometimes display samurai armour in their homes to represent their desire to raise strong and powerful boys. This custom goes back to when Children’s Day was known as Boys’ Day (with Girls’ Day being a separate occasion in March) before the holiday was changed to include all children in 1948.
Chimaki can be made at home, and while it’s not complicated it can be a bit harder to secure ingredients like bamboo leaves, and even if you can find them it can take some practice to master wrapping and tying the chimaki. But for the most part all you need is a rice cooker and a few other simple ingredients from your local Asian grocer to create a homemade version of this tasty snack. There are a variety of different recipes to be found on the Internet, and you can even find tutorials on YouTube that will demonstrate how to wrap chimaki. But for hassle-free chimaki, it might be best to grab them from your local Asian grocery store.