Dango is a Japanese traditional sweet and a kind of dumpling made from rice flour (rice flour is kneaded with water or hot water and steamed or boiled to make a dumpling which is called 'mochi'; the mochi is cut into pieces which are shaped like small balls which are called 'dango'). It is usually sweetened with sugar, but the original dango was not sweetened for preservation, so at present, such non-sweetened dango coated with soy sauce are sometimes found.
Dango is usually coated with azuki-an (a sweet red paste made from red azuki beans) or sato-joyu-an (soy sauce with sugar) or kinako (sweet soybean flour), sometimes it is put in shiruko (warm sweet soup made from azuki-an) or mitsumame (a cold dessert made with gelatin cubes, red peas, fruits and syrup). In some regions, it is made from normal flour or millet flour.
In Japan, some small balls are called 'dango', for example, a ball made of earth (children often make it at sandboxes or beaches) is called 'tsuchi-dango' (literally, 'earth dango'); meatballs are called 'niku-dango' (literally, 'meat dango') and other foods for dishes such as dumplings and knaidlach are called 'dango' as well. The things whose shapes remind of dango are called dango.
Fresh dango are soft, but gradually grow hard since the carbohydrate changes from α configurations to β configurations. To prevent that change, sugar should be added to mochi soon after steaming, and mochi should be pounded well. By such process, dango becomes a long-life sweet. Some people say that adding yam to mochi can prevent the changing.
However, putting sweet an (paste or thick sauce or jam for adding to main foods) to sweetened mochi makes too much sweet dango; non-sweetened an doesn't match sweetened mochi; therefore, the quantity of the sugar is very important.
Kushi-dango is a skewered dango formed of three to five dumplings (usually they are skewered by a bamboo skewer) and coated with an. Sometimes it is broiled after being coated with sauce.
Dango with sweet soy-sauce flavoring
After being broiled, it is coated with an made from soy-sauce, sugar, sweet sake for seasoning, starch and water. It is called 'Mitarashi Dango', 'Yaki Dango', 'Shoyu Dango', 'Amakara Dango' and so on; the name is changed by regions and shops. Such dango with sweet soy-sauce flavoring is more popular in the whole country.
Dango with salty flavoring
It is dango with salty soy-sauce flavoring. Sometimes it is coated with toasted laver, or coated with wasabi-joyu (soy-sauce mixed with wasabi) like Isobe Mochi (baked rice cake with soy-sauce flavoring coated with toasted laver). Midarashi Dango of the Hida region (Gifu Prefecture), Isobe Dango of the Tama region (Tokyo Prefecture) and the Iruma region (Saitama Prefecture), and Shoyu Dango of Morioka City (Iwate Prefecture) are categorized into it.
Other flavors of dango
Azuki-an: It is a sweet red paste made from red azuki beans and is used for coating dango; smooth bean paste is called 'koshi-an' and sweet bean paste containing pieces of azuki beans skin is called 'tsubu-an'. Yomogi Dango (a green-colored dango made from mochi mixed with mugwort) is usually coated with azuki-an.
Kinako: It is soybean flour sweetened with sugar and used for coating dango.
Zunda: It is a sweet green paste made from young soybeans in the pod, and it is used for coating dango.
Kurumi: It is sauce made from walnut flour, sugar and water, or a sweet paste made from walnuts; it is used for coating dango.
Goma: It is coarsely-ground sesame sweetened with sugar like kinako-an, or sauce made from sesame flour, sugar and water, or a sweet paste made from ground sesame like koshi-an; it is used for coating dango.
Sanshoku Dango (literally, 'dango of three colors'): It is a skewered dango formed of one pink dumpling (colored with shoku-beni coloring), one green dumpling (colored with mugwort or coloring) and one non-colored white dumpling. It is usually eaten in hanami (cherry blossom viewing parties).
Tsukimi Dango (literally, 'dango for moon watching'): It is offered to the moon in jugo-ya (August 15 in the old lunar calendar). It is made from dango flour and shaped a little smaller; at the event, some people heap up many Tsukimi Dango like a tiny pyramid; some people make dango long like a taro (this dango is often seen in the Kansai region); and some people shape dango like a stick and coat it with an like the moon going in clonds (called 'mura-kumo').
Hanami Dango: It is eaten during hanami. It usually refers to Sanshoku Dango. There is a proverb related to Hanami Dango "Hana yori Dango"(to prefer dango to hana); it originates from people attracted much more to dango or parties at hanami events than to 'hana' (the cherry blossoms) which are supposed to be the main things at the events.
Mitarashi Dango: Generally it refers to a non-sweetened kushi-dango broiled a little and coated with kuzu-an (a paste made from kuzu vine) flavored with sugar and soy-sauce as a finish. In the Hida region of Gifu Prefecture, white kushi-dango is coated with non-sweetened soy-sauce and broied as a finish.
Ito-kiri Dango (dango cut by a string)
Soba Dango (dango made from buckwheat flour)
Kibi Dango: It is made from kibi (millet flour). In a famous fairy tale "Momo-taro" (Peach Boy), Momo-taro took Kibi Dango which was made by his grandmother.
Habutae Dango: The name originates from the softness as Habutae silk.
Sasa Dango: It is coated with sasa (a bamboo leaf)
Ikinari Dango: It is made from flour.
Kakko Dango (literally, 'cuckoo dango'): It is sold in Genbi-kei Valley in Ichinoseki City, Iwate Prefecture. It does not refer to any kind of dango; it refers to a particular way of selling.
Dango is often made at Japanese traditional events. For example, 'Hatsuka Dango' (the twentieth dango) is made on January 20, dango is made at Busshoe (Buddha's birthday) on April 8, 'Tsukimi Dango' is made on August 15, and 'Makura Dango' is made at funerals (dango put beside the pillow of the deceased). Generally, rice steamed and pounded is called mochi; flour kneaded and shaped like a ball is called dango.
On every December 7, Katori-jingu Shrine of Chiba Prefecture holds Danki Festival and hands out dango to the visitors after the festival.
Phrases related to dango
Hana yori Dango
Dango ni Me Hana (literally, 'dango with eyes and nose', means a round face)
Dango Race (means 'very much of a muchness')
Dango de Makeru: It is a slang that means loss of a tennis match by 0-6. Its meaning is the same as 'bagel'.
Dango no Kushi-zashi: It is used when evaluating some scenarios or other similar works. It usually refers to a bad composition formed of several meaningless episodes like a kushi-dango formed of the same dango.
Dango Unten: It refers to a situation that buses or lifts are driven at very short intervals like a kushi-dango.