Celebrating Japan's doll festival

Hina Matsuri is the “doll festival” in Japan, held on the 3rd of March. Also known as Momo no sekku or Peach Day, the festival marks the coming of the spring and celebrates a young girl’s coming of age. On that day, ornamental hina ningyou dolls are displayed on a seven-tiered platform in a wedding procession. The dolls may also be related to an old traditional called hina nagashi where straw dolls are floated down the river thereby carrying bad spirits away with them.

As with many traditions this celebration is closely related to foods filled with auspicious meanings.

Hishi mochi are lozenge-shaped rice cakes presented in tri-coloured layers—green for growth, white for purity, and pink representing peach blossoms. Made from glutinous rice, the Hishi mochi is sticky and slightly sweet. The green layer contains the aromatic and slightly bitter herb mugwort. The white layer contains water caltrop plant which tastes like chestnut and was believed to promote longevity. The pink layer is flavoured by gardenia hips which lends a refreshing floral flavour.

Sakura mochi are glutinous rice crepes filled with adzuki red bean paste and wrapped with salted sakura cherry leaves. The confection is sweet, chewy and highly fragrant and is enjoyed in the anticipation of the coming cherry blossoms.

Hamaguri Ushiojiru is a light soup of clear broth and short-necked clams. Clamshells represent unity and marital harmony as the two parts of the bivalve are perfectly matched. The flavour of the broth is clean and lightly flavoured with clam and konbu kelp, garnished with a bit of mitsuba or Japanese parsley.

Chirashizushi translates to “scattered sushi” describing a dish of mixed raw fish and other fresh ingredients on a bed of sushi rice. This is a popular dish during the festival because the abundance of fresh ingredients represents prosperity and fertility.

Amazake is a thick drink made from sake lees and fermented rice. Although the name means “sweet sake,” Amazake is not alcoholic. However, it is very sweet and fragrant with a starchy pudding-like texture.

Hina arare are crisp balloon-shaped crackers made from puffed rice and seasoned with soy sauce or covered with sugar. There are many different varieties of this snack. Many of the hina arare found during the festival will be coloured with the pink of peach blossom, white of snow, and green of new grass.