Hana-yori-Dango: Savoury Style [Recipe]

April is spring time! It is the time for flowers to present their charm; especially Sakura (cherry blossom), the symbol of Japan. Japanese people have a great culture of “Hanami”, or flower viewing. When the spring flowers, particularly Sakura, start to bloom, many Japanese people will get together with their family, friends or workmates to sit under the trees and eat some food (and drink!), while enjoying the beauty of nature.

During this period, you will often see people enjoying the tasty Japanese sweet in the picture below.

This is Three Color Dango (Sanshoku Dango). It is made of rice flour, which makes it tender and chewy. Dango is different from Mochi, which is made of sticky rice flour, so Mochi is generally stickier than Dango. Three Color Dango typically has three balls: pink, white and green. Pink represents the pink cherry blossom buds, white represents white-pale pink fully blooming blossom, and green represents fresh new green leaf. The dango balls are skewered in order, so you have to eat pink first, then white and green. The eating order is the same as the changing colours of the Sakura tree.

Normally, Dango is sweet. It may have red been paste inside or not, depending on the shop. Three Color Dango is skewered, so it is very convenient for carrying and eating outdoors. Thus, I had an idea; savoury snacks could also be skewered and eaten easily like this Dango! Moreover, there are many fresh and tasty products to be enjoyed in the spring season. Then, this recipe was born. In my Savoury Three Color Dango dish, each Dango ball is different from the others.

Pink Dango is a chicken meatball coated in sauce with new onion inside. New onion (shin-tamanegi 新玉ねぎ) has green skin and is sweeter than ordinary onion. You might also know is as ‘green onion’ or ‘fresh-season onion’ as it can be found in spring (confusingly, it is different to what most would call a ‘spring onion’!).

White Dango is simmered bamboo shoot, which is at its sweetest, crispiest and most delicious in spring.

Green Dango is a rice ball stuffed with whitebait fish, which is very tasty in this season, and wrapped in Oba leaf

Interested? Let’s move on to the ingredients.

Ingredients (for 6 skewers)

Pink Dango

Chicken meatball

100 grams ground chicken

1/2 tablespoons potato starch

1/2 tablespoons Shoyu soy sauce

1/4 new onion (Shin-tamanegi)


3 tablespoons Shoyu soy sauce

3 tablespoons vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

White Dango

1 boiled bamboo shoot

800 ml water (approximately)

2 tablespoons Shoyu soy sauce

2 tablespoons chicken soup powder

Green Dango

1 cup hot steamed rice (approximately)

2 tablespoons boiled whitebait (approximately)

6 Oba leaves

1 pinch salt

6 skewers and plastic wrap are also necessary!

Let’s start from the white one so we can simmer it and cook the others while waiting.

Remove the bambooo shoot from the package and rinse with water. Then, slice it ​​in cross-sections about 1-inch thick.

Put the slices of bamboo shoot in a pot, add water to cover them and the add shoyu soy sauce and chicken soup powder. Turn on the heat. When the soup starts boiling, turn the heat down to low and close the lid. Simmer for about an hour.

Let’s move on to the pink dango, or chicken meatball with sauce.

Slice the onion thinly. Heat the pan with a small amount of oil. Then, stir-fry the onion until it becomes brown (caramelized).

Once caramelized, turn off the heat and let it rest.

Knead the potato starch and Shoyu soy sauce into the chicken thoroughly. Then, add the caramelized new onion and mix. Divide the mixture into six equal parts and shape each part into a ball.

Using a small amount of oil on a medium heat, grill the meatballs until the bottom-side becomes golden brown. After that, flip the meatball and adjust the heat to medium-low. Cook the other side until golden brown and all other sides are completely cooked. Then turn off the heat and let the chicken meatballs rest in a plate or bowl.

Remove the excess oil with aborbent paper, and warm the juices left in the pan over low heat. Add Shoyu soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then occasionally stir until the mixture boils and thickens.

Add the meatballs back to the pan and coat them with the sauce. Then, turn off the heat and let them rest. The pink dango is done!

Let’s continue to the green one…!

Season a cup of steamed rice with a pinch of salt and mix thoroughly. Then, first placing some plastic wrap on your hand, spoon about one tablespoon of rice onto the wrap.

Put a small amount of whitebait on the rice – about the same amount shown in the picture. Be careful not to use too much whitebait as the rice won’t fully cover the fish. Then, gradually shape the rice ball around the fish so that all the whitebait are inside the ball; the plastic wrap can help you do this easily. Let it rest for a while.

Back to the bamboo shoots – hope you haven’t forgotten about them!! Remove them from the pot; then use a knife to carefully cut them into a circlar shape, around the same size as the meatball.

Now, it’s nearly time to combine them!

Place an Oba leaf on your hand and remove the rice ball from the wrap and put it onto the Oba leaf. Gently fold the leaf. It won’t stick to the rice, but don’t worry! You are about to skewer it.

Fold the side of Oba leaf and thread it onto the skewer as presented in the picture. Next, skewer the bamboo shoot.

Finally, skewer the chicken meatball and we’re done!

Chicken meatball with sweet and sour sauce, sweet and crunchy simmered bamboo shoot, and whitebait rice ball with unique refreshing aroma of Oba leaf. It is indeed very easy to cook and eat!

In the vivid colors, there is both deliciousness and nutrition from fresh produce of the spring season. This recipe is the perfect meal for Hanami.

If you’ve got plans for Hanami, why don’t you try this recipe? First, enjoy the savoury style three color Dango. Then, eat the traditional sweet one. What a perfect meal!

Hope you all enjoy the Sakura and spring time!

Piangrawee Santivongskul

Tohoku Ambassador Club

About Tohoku Ambassador Club