Sunday 4 June 2017

Sasamaki: sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves

Four packages of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves known as sasamaki in Japan
Sasamaki: Glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves

One traditional food which can only seen and eaten this time of year is called sasamaki (笹巻き) made up of the characters for bamboo grass and wrap/roll (as in maki-zushi or sushi roll). Although the name,  filling, and way of wrapping varies widely from region to region - this is a typical example of kyōdo ryōri (郷土料理) or regional cuisine - those pictured here are from Yamagata and contain sticky glutinous steamed rice (mochi-gome) wrapped in bamboo leaves and then tied with igusa or rushes (the same material from which tatami mats are made). In Yamagata, they are typically dipped in or sprinkled with sweetened soy-bean powder or kinako (きな粉).  They were hand-made by my mother-in-law and the bamboo leaves (although they can be bought in the supermarket) were collected from the mountains by my father-in-law.

In the past, they were made to celebrate Boy's Day (May 5th) in the old luni-solar calendar (kyūreki =旧暦): the new moon on May 26th marked the fifth month of the old year, known as satsuki  (五月). Eating them is said to ward off illness; the bamboo leaves naturally preserve the contents and prevent it going off quickly in the high humidity. Yamagata City has a recipe on its homepage. There is also a YouTube video here showing how to wrap and tie them Yamagata-style. The picture right shows how they look when untied and unwrapped - beware, they are very very sticky!