March 3rd is Hina Matsuri (Doll’s Festival) a.k.a. “Girls Day”.
Once upon a time, dolls carried away bad spirits from their owners when set adrift in rivers, seas, and oceans (nagashibina). This custom is still practiced in a handful of areas. More commonly today, colorful foods and hina dolls of an Imperial couple and court create a festive mood for celebrating daughters and wishing them health and future marital bliss.
Chirashi- zushi (Scattered sushi)
Hina Matsuri’s signature dish, chirashi-zushi, consists of sushi rice, made on the sweet side to appease princess palates, mixed with other ingredients, such as carrots, lotus root, kampyō (gourd strips), bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms. Traditional toppings provide additional nutrition needed at the end of winter, including cooked shrimp, lotus root, and snow peas. These are attractively “scattered” (chirasu) on a bed of kin-tamago (paper-thin egg crepes cut into strips) set on sushi rice. There are many recipes online; kids web has an easy one.
Some supermarkets sell chirashi gomoku mix for the rice, pre-cut egg strips, and/or fresh-made topping packs (worth it!). Friends and relatives are often invited to a baby’s first Hina Matsuri, and chirashi-zushi, traditionally served in a wooden tub, can be customized to personal servings and toppings. Check out the innovative versions made using molds (small cups or cut down milk cartons recipe), “sushi cakes”, or served in glassware. An alternative to chirashi-zushi is temari sushi— decorative sushi balls.
Ushio-jiru (“Seawater” Clam Soup )
Hamaguri Clam Soup
Only one pair of shells fit together perfectly, symbolizing a wish for a perfect soul mate. Hamaguri Clam Soup Recipe. Fu (wheat gluten puffs), or limited-time-only Hina Matsuri themed kamaboko (processed fish paste) add color to this simple, clear broth soup.
Hishi mochi (Diamond-shaped mochi)
The colorful layers symbolize green sprouts under the white snow, with pink and peach blossoms on the surface. Jello and cheesecake achieve these colors by using strawberry/plain/melon (or matcha) flavors. Other pastel-colored desserts ready to please include ichigo daifuku, a single strawberry wrapped in mochi; sakura mochi, adzuki beans in smooth rice flour (Kanto) or mochi rice (Kansai) wrapped with a salt-pickled sakura leaf; or dango, tri-colored mochi balls on stick. For a modern twist, konbinis and supermarkets sell strawberry/whipped cream cakes with Hina Matsuri cake toppers. Chain stores like Baskin-Robbins and Mister Donuts sell “royal couple” treats as well.
Arare (Sugar-coated Rice Snacks)
Hina Arare: Kanto (left) and Kansai (right)
Specially packaged and sweetened for Hina Matsuri rice snacks: rice puffs (Kanto) and crackers (Kansai) load the snack aisle end-caps alongside other eye-catching Hina Matsuri snacks.
Amazake (Sweet Sake) and Shirozake (White Sake)
Amazake is a low or non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice koji. It is served warm and available as a liquid or powder mix, in a can or bottle. Shirozake, a sweet, pulpy liquor, made with shochu, mochi, mirin, and koji, is sold next to seasonal pink beer cans.
Enjoy the feast, fun, and family at your Hina Matsuri celebration. Just make sure to get the dolls back in their boxes early on March 4th if you heed the old superstition that warns leaving them out too long delays marriage prospects.