Are you a fan of Asian cuisine and ready to shift from sushi, ramen, or tom yam to desserts? Or just got tired of the usual pastry and cakes? We’ll help you out! Today we’re going to explore in detail a famous phenomenon coming from Japan – dango. If you’ve already heard of a similar dessert, mochi, we will make sure that you don’t confuse them and know how to enjoy each one.
Although this article will not burden you with all the nuances of dango in the intricate Japanese culture and cuisine, it will give you a solid introduction to spotting dango’s taste, texture, and flavor peculiarities.
What Is Dango?
Dango is a Japanese sweet dumpling made from the three types of rice flour: ordinary, uruchi, and glutinous, with the addition of matcha or strawberry powder. The use of glutinous rice flour gives dango its sticky and chewy texture. Dango rice balls are served skewered on bamboo sticks.
As a traditional confectionery, dango has a long history dating back to the 10th century. Encyclopedic references to dango can be found in 12-13th-century Buddhist books. Initially made with leftover pieces of rice and grain husks, dangos were used like religious offerings to the gods. These days dangos are still used during Buddhist memorial ceremonies but have also become commonplace. Skewered on the sticks, dangos can be easily eaten on the go whenever you wish.
Is Dango Made With Mochi?
No, dango and mochi are two distinct Japanese desserts. They may look similar, but mochi is made from just glutinous rice, while dango is made from a mix of three rice flours, ordinary, uruchi, and glutinous.
Does Dango Contain Meat?
No, this Japanese treat, dango, does not contain meat. It is a gluten-free dessert made from various types of rice flour. Dango balls can be colored with matcha or mugwort grass to produce a green color or with cherry blossoms or strawberry powder to create a pink appearance. Sometimes sugar is added.
However, dango should not be mixed with nikudango (with niku meaning meat and dango meaning a ball), which is actually a special type of meatball that is also skewed on a stick. Nikudango is a variation of pork meatballs covered in a sweet and sour sauce and is genuinely delicious if you are a meat lover.
Dango Flavor Profile – What Does Dango Taste Like?
As a dessert, dango taste is sweet. Depending on the type of dango, it can be plain or flavored with various ingredients, such as matcha, strawberry, or cherry blossoms powder, or covered in a sweet and nutty sauce made from soybeans. The original warm dango taste is tender with a soft but chewy texture.
Having a mild taste, a three-ball portion of dango on a stick is perfectly enough for your tastebuds to properly discover the flavor but not reach the over-sweet stage. Sweet rice balls are quite dense but not too much, therefore, again, your jaw won’t suffer from one stick of dangos for sure.
Is Dango Savory or Sweet?
With a broad range of variations, dango is made of sweet rice flour and, hence, plain dango is a mildly sweet Japanese treat. In the search for a savory note, try Mitarashi Dango, a dango covered in a glazed sweet and savory soy sauce. Enjoy it with a cup of hot green tea for the best experience.
In some particular regions you can find savory dangos made not even from the rice flour. The only reason why they’re still called dango is that they have a ball shape and are skewered on a stick as well. This is the case for denpun dango made from potato flour.
Not all non-sweet varieties are that extreme. For example, yomogi dango is still made of rice flour but its particular green color is made with Japanese mugwort, which makes it taste slightly earthy. If additionally wrapped in bamboo leaves, this dango would be called sasa dango.
What Is Dango Filled With?
Most types of dango are solid and not filled with anything. Instead, they might be covered with some sauce or glaze, usually made from soy or red soybeans. Alternatively, goma dango is not covered but stuffed with anko, the sweet red soybean paste. You can spot it also by the use of sesame seeds.
A very interesting example of a filled dango is sasa dango spiced with the mugwort. It is popular in the Niigata Prefecture and is famous for its two variations – onna and otoko dango, meaning female and male dango. Female, onna dango is stuffed with the red bean anko pasta, while male, otoko dango is stuffed with kinpira reduction of roots, tofu and seaweed.
What Types of Dango Are There?
Dango is a traditional Japanese treat and today there are endless varieties. Some are eaten throughout the year, some are season-specific, and some are region-specific. Popular types include hanami dango, mitarashi, anko, cha, niku, kibi, denpun, bocchan, kuri, teppanyaki, sasa, and kinako.
We would suggest you initially try at least three of them: hanami, mitarashi and anko. Then, if you want to expand your horizons with more diverse tastes of dango, go for denpun dango made with potato flour, kibi dango made with millet flour, and sasa dango, which is stuffed with soybean paste. As a cherry on the top, check out the kawai dango, or cute dango, decorated with funny faces.
What Is the Most Popular Dango?
Mitarashi dango is the most popular dango. You can recognize it by the three skewed plain dango balls covered with a glazed soybean sauce. It’s easy to find them in the confectionaries, restaurants or supermarkets. Pair them with green tea and appreciate the sweet rice taste.
However, among the emojis on your device, you can easily distinguish another type of dango – a hanami dango composed of three pink, white and green dangos skewered on a stick. This is an extremely popular dango in the cherry blossom viewing (“hanami”) period. The colors are made with strawberry and matcha or mugwort powders which symbolize the cherry blossoming itself.
Depending on the interpretation, you can see a pink bud – white flower – green leaves in it or cherry blossoming – snow melting – grass growing. Therefore, the order of the colors is of the utmost importance. If you happen to come to Japan in the hanami period, hanami dangos should be on your must-try list!
How to Eat Dango?
Is Dango Eaten Warm or Cold?
Dango should be eaten freshly made, meaning when it’s just boiled. Warm dango has the best taste and the softest texture. When it cools down, it tends to become chewier. If you have some dango left, store it in the fridge and then reheat for 30 sec in a microwave to soften and unfold the flavor.
Warm dango is usually eaten with a cup of hot tea any time of the day, but preferably in the morning. It also matches well with other plant-based desserts like mochi and other wagashi confectionery.
To sum up, dango is a traditional Japanese treat made from sweet rice flour. Coming in different variations, dango can be plain or covered with soy glaze or soybean paste or even stuffed with it. Served with green tea, dango is perfect for breakfast, or is a great on-the-go snack!
After reading this we are sure you are heading to the Japanese section in your supermarket or to a Japanese restaurant. Wherever you find them, taste the famous mitarashi dango with the glazed soy sauce or the anko dango with the red bean paste. This soft chewy and mildly sweet dessert is definitely worth your attention.
Dango Taste FAQ
Is Dango Vegetarian?
Generally, dango is vegetarian, or even vegan. All the dangos are made from several types of rice flour, which is perfect for a vegetarian diet. Still, watch out for the milk, whey powder, or eggs in some of the dango variations. Be cautious with nikudango, the meatballs, as those contain pork.
Is Dango Popular in Japan?
Dango, the Japanese treat, is classified as wagashi, a traditional confectionery served with green tea. They are extremely popular and eaten throughout the year in restaurants, at home, or as street food. Some dangos, though, are season-specific, like hanami, eaten in the cherry blooming season.
Is Dango Healthy?
Dango is a dessert and not very healthy. It is made from sweet rice flour, which is heavy in carbs and sugar and often covered in sweet soybean paste. It also provides little nutritional value. Dango should be eaten as a sweet treat.