A special full moon will illuminate the evening sky this Friday night (Sept. 29th, 2023), marking an auspicious occasion in many East Asian cultures. Known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, or Chushu no Meigetsu in Japanese, the celebration signals the beginning of the annual harvest and usually falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar.
In Japan, traditionally people would gather in the evening for tsukimi, or moon-viewing. Moon-shaped dango, or rice dumplings, would be stacked in a pyramid and displayed with pampass grass and other seasonal treats as an offering to the moon.
In Yoshitoshi’s design “A Wandering Poet,” he portrays the famous poet Matsuo Basho greeting a group of men enjoying tsukimi with dango, seated below a display of autumn flowers and edamame.
Celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival by preparing your own tsukimi dango.
250g Dango flour (This brand is great.)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp corn starch, mixed thoroughly with a bit of water
2/3 cup of water
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
2. In a small saucepan, combine soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and 2/3cup of water. Stir slowly as the sauce heats. When it comes to a boil, add corn starch slurry, turn off heat, and mix to remove lumps. You can run it through a sieve if you find lumps in the sauce. Put on side to cool.
3. Put dango flour in a bowl and slowly add water as you mix.
4. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and soft like your earlobe.
5. Separate the dough and roll into logs that are 3/4in thick. Cut into 3/4in long pieces and roll into balls.
6. Drop into boiling water and cook the dumplings for about two minutes. The dango will float to the top when they are cooked.
7. Drop the dumplings into a cold-water bath and then put on plate to dry.
8. To create the display, stack the dumplings in layers of nine, four, and one.
9. If you wish to enjoy the dango right away, brush a bit of canola oil on the dumplings, and heat in a preheated pan. After the dumplings brown, turn them over to cook on the other side.
10. Brush on the sweet soy glaze and enjoy!
Hiroshige and Toyokuni III. Kanagawa. 1854. Woodblock print.