May 15, 2017
by Yu Nakabayashi and Nanae Uchida
Mitarashi dango is Japanese sweet made of mochi with mitarashi sauce. Mochi is a soft and sticky white-colored food made from rice that is steamed, kneaded and shaped. Mitarashi sauce is a slightly sticky golden-colored sauce with a mix of sweet and salty taste. It made from soy sauce, sugar, water and starch. The shaped mochi is placed on a bamboo skewer and is grilled over charcoal to make the surface of the mochi a little bit burnt (see photo). This creates a wonderful smell. Mitarashi dango is very popular and low priced, usually 100 to 150 yen (about one dollar) for three mitarashi dango. People of all ages love mitarashi dango in Japan.
Where to Get Mitarashi Dango
Today, we can easily get Mitarashi Dango anywhere in Japan, such as in supermarkets, convenience stores, or cafés. There are even shops in shopping malls that specialize in Japanese sweets using mochi. However, there are differences in quality and between at the dango sold in convenience stores and those sold in the specialty shops in Kyoto. You should be aware of the quality difference before forming an opinion of mitarashi dango.
Features of Mitarashi Dango
Most mitarashi dango at convenience stores and supermarkets is sold as a pack of three dango with bamboo skewers. Also, the sauce is a little bit sticky; not so smooth. On the other hand, the mitarashi dango sold in specialty shops in Kyoto has several differences. First of all, each dango is smaller, and is sold in a pack of five with bamboo skewers. Also, the sauce is smoother and not so sticky. This is probably due to the fact that supermarket dango is made to be easy to carry and store. However, from historical point of view, five small dango with bamboo skewers is original way.
History of Mitarashi Dango
The famous origin of mitarashi dango is connected with the Shimogamo shrine. This name, Mitarashi Dango, comes from the Mitarashi Festival, which is held at Shimogamo shrine. As mitarashi dango is made up of five dango with bamboo skewers, there are two theories about the origin of this shape. The first theory is that the shape of the dango is based on bubbles in the Mitarashi pond at the shrine. After one bubble rose, four more bubbles came up to the surface of the water. That is why one dango is stabbed at the head of the bamboo skewer, leaving space for other four dango. The other theory is that mitarashi dango represents the human form: four dango for the body and the fifth for the human head.
Differences Between Now and Then
These days, the mitarashi dango you buy at convenience stores or supermarkets is different from the traditional version in taste and appearance. In order to ship it around Japan and sell it on a mass scale, the expiration date must be lengthened. For this reason, supermarket dango comes in packs of three dango and contains more sugar. Traditional mitarashi dango expires within a day, so it is important to eat it fresh. It tastes more like a Japanese food than a sweet due to the flavor of soy sauce. Therefore, people used to eating supermarket mitarashi dango might not like traditional version as much.
Where to Get Mitarashi Dango in Kyoto
There are several places where you can find high quality Mitarashi Dango in Kyoto. The most famous one is near Shimogamo shrine, the place of origin of Mitarashi Dango. You can also make your own Mitarashi Dango at some places in Kyoto.
To eat:Kamo Mitarashi Chaya
Although you cannot actually buy mitarashi dango at the Simogamo shrine itself, you can get it at a nearby cafe, called Kamo Mitarashi Chaya. It is only a minute’s walk from the shrine. This is a very old Japanese cafe, where you can find original style, fresh mitarashi dango (with five dango) and other food made from mochi. In addition to eating it there, you can also get it to go. It’s said that this is the birthplace of mitarashi dango. Not only is the food delicious, but the atmosphere is pleasing. Not only is it a very traditional place, but it is also a comfortable, modest space where you can experience the old Japanese style. We highly recommend a visit.
Access: Take the Kyoto City Bus #205, alight at Shimogamojinja-mae and walk about 10minutes
Address: 53 Shimogamo Matsunokicho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-0816, Kyoto Prefecture
Phone Number: +81 75-791-1652
To make:Yatsuhashian to Sishuyakata
If you want to try to make your own mitarashi dango, then you can go to Yatsuhashian to Sishuyakata. There, you can try to make several kinds of Japanese sweets from scratch, including mitarashi dango. You can experience the entire process of making mitarashi dango, from the mochi to the syrup and to the grilling process. Of course, when it’s all done, you can eat it, too. It is sure to taste much better when you make it by yourself.
Access: Take the Kyoto City Bus #73, alight at Nishikyogoku and walk about 8minutes
Take the Kyoto City Bus #205, alight at Saidaiji-shijyo and walk about 15minutes
Address:36 Nishikyōgoku Nishikoromodechō, Ukyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 615-0877
Phone number: +81 75-313-2151