Sasa Dango: Niigata’s Specialty Rice Dumpling
The prefecture where I live, Niigata is very famous as a production area of rice in Japan. The rice tastes very good, so there are a number of popular specialties made from it in Niigata, which include Sake rice wine and Senbei rice crackers.
Especially, the Sake and Senbei produced in Niigata are not only highly regarded in Japan, but they are also widely recognized in countries other than Japan. For example, the Japanese rice cracker fairly well-known to overseas people, Kaki no Tane originated in Niigata.
In addition to these, actually, Niigata has one more specialty food that shouldn’t be forgotten, which is a traditional confection very familiar to those who were born and raised in the prefecture.
Sasa Dango (笹団子)
The traditional sweet my birthplace Niigata boasts of is called “Sasa Dango (笹団子)”. As you may know, “Dango (団子)” are traditional Japanese rice dumplings, while “Sasa (笹)” refers to bamboo leaf, so Sasa Dango are rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves.
Specifically, the rice dumpling wrapped in the bamboo leaf is a type of Mochi confection called “Yomogi Mochi (よもぎ餅: literally Mugwort Rice Cake)”, which consists of a mugwort-flavored rice dumpling filled with sweet Azuki red bean paste “Anko (餡子)“.
The rice dumpling in which the mugwort Yomogi has been kneaded features its deep green color and has a distinctive fragrance from the leaf Yomogi. In texture, it is somewhat hard and quite chewy compared to other Dango dumplings.
As for history, it is said that Sasa Dango has more than 400 years of history, and in the old days, the Yomogi Mochi wrapped in the bamboo leaf was a portable food that kept long. In fact, the bamboo leaf is known for having a bactericidal effect.
Where to Buy Sasa Dango
The Wagashi confection Sasa Dango can be found at souvenir shops in train stations in Niigata. If you have a plan to visit my prefecture, why not give it a try? Remove the leaves and just with one bite, and you will be impressed by the distinctive deliciousness and herby fragrance.