A Box Full Of Blooms: In sakura season, a specially-packed bento box is the perfect accompaniment for your hanami session.
IF YOU LIVE even a small part of your life online, then it's quite likely that your social media feeds for the past couple of weeks or so have been taken over by pictures of friends, influencers and celebrities visiting either Korea or Japan, for cherry blossom season. As an explosion of the delicate pink sakura blooms covers the landscape, marking the advent of spring, dedicating a few hours to sitting under the spreading boughs of a cherry tree in the company of those you love becomes one of life's simpler but more sacred pleasures.
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In Japan especially, the act of hanami — flower-viewing — during sakura season is observed with a certain ceremony. And a much-loved part of hanami is the hanami bento — a boxed lunch for your picnic under the sakura flowers. Here's a brief look at the popular elements that might comprise a hanami bento:
MAKIZUSHI & MORE
Sushi (several department stores and restaurants offer pre-made hanami sushi sets during this time), onigiri (rice balls wrapped in nori) and tamagoyaki (rolled omelette) are all filling yet light snacks.
Inarizushi — tofu 'pockets' (known as aburaage) are seasoned, deep-friend and soaked in a dashi broth to absorb all the flavours. Vinegar sushi rice is then stuffed inside these pockets to form the perfect picnic food.
Sakura no hana no shiozuke — i.e. Salted cherry blossoms. Sakura are hand-picked during the season and pickled in a mixture of salt and plum vinegar. The tsukemono (pickle) can be eaten as is, or included as an ingredient in dishes like the sweets mentioned below, or to prepare tea, spreads etc.
Hanami dango — Sweet rice flour dumplings are skewered in sets of three, in a colour combination of pink, white and pale green to represent the season.
Sakura mochi — Mochi (rice cake) in which the regular filling of red bean paste is enveloped in a pink rice instead of the usual white, and wrapped in salted sakura leaves. You can get Chomeiji mochi (flour is kneaded with water, rolled into thin slices, then baked) or Domyoji mochi (raw rice flour that has been shaped into small balls and steamed).
Sakura manju — Palm-sized cherry blossom dumplings made from glutinous rice flour with sweet red bean paste. The blossom used in the manju is the double-petaled sakura (yaezakura).
Sakura yokan and kante — Delicate jellied sweets that incorporate cherry blossoms.
Sakura tea — Salt pickled sakura flowers are steeped in hot water to prepare a fragrant tea. The beverage isn't just a staple of hanami parties, but is also served at auspicious events like weddings as cherry blossoms symbolise "beginnings".
Sakura sake — A sake flavour that's a signature of the season.