Sakura Mochi:桜餅



Did you know the national flower of Japan is Cherry Blossom? Cherry Blossoms, also known as “Sakura (桜)”, has been admired for centuries in Japan. Many pieces of literature mention Hanami (花見) starting in around 710AC.  People from ASEAN countries and other foreign countries travel to japan to see the beautiful light pink blossoms in full bloom. 

 Sakura is Edible!?

You might be surprised but Sakura leaves and flowers are also edible. If you visit Japan in March and April, you will see many Sakura-themed foods displayed everywhere in stores. Some of which contain real Sakura leaves and/or flowers. 

Over 300 years of history was started by a gate guard

One of the most famous foods made with cherry leaves is called “Sakura Mochi (桜餅)”. It was created by a gate guard at Chomeiji Temple, Shinroku Yamamoto, in 1717. His daily task was to clean tons of fallen cherry leaves during the season. He thought maybe he can turn those leaves into food. He pickled them in salt first. He made a thin layer of “mochi (餅 or もち)”, which is made with flour instead of rice, filled with sweet red bean paste. Then he wrapped it with the pickled cherry leaves. 
The temple is located alongside Sumida River (Sumidagawa:隅田川) where the 8th Shogun, Yoshimune Tokugawa, planted about 1200 cherry trees the same year. There was a lot of traffic for the Hanami season. He started to sell this new dessert in front of the temple and it became very popular in the Edo area (Currently Tokyo). 
The picture above was created in 1864. The title is “36 Famous and Interesting Things in Edo / Cherry Blossoms at the Banks of Mukojima and Bean Paste Rice-cakes Wrapped in Cherry Leaves”. The label on the green bag is written as “Sakura mochi (桜もち)”. A century and a half after the 1st introduction, it was still popular and famous in Edo. Today the original Sakura mochi is still sold at Chomeiji Yamamotoya. You can enjoy it the same as they did 305 years ago. 

Another popular style of Sakura Mochi

Since it was so popular in the capital of Japan, the news traveled all over. As Sakura Mochi traveled through Japan, the ingredients and shape was modified. In the Southwest of Japan, the Sakura mochi looks a bit different. Instead of the thin mochi layer like a crêpe, you will see a thicker mochi layer which is made with Domyoji-ko (道明寺粉). Domyoji-ko is made with mochi rice which is cooked, dried, and then milled. You can see the difference in textures in the picture below. 
In Today’s market, you might see more Domyoji style Sakura mochi over Chomeiji style. 
Maybe you can make both types of Sakura mochi at home during this spring, or make a trip to both Tokyo and Kyoto. You will find a few Shinise (老舗: long-standing store with history) Japanese dessert stores to taste traditionally made Sakura mochi while enjoying Hanami. 
Happy spring everyone!