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Hanami is the picnic held under the cherry blossoms in spring. For everyone to be able to enjoy a hanami party, choosing the right menu is essential. Let's see what a usual hanami picnic menu looks like.
Everyone adores cherry blossoms in Japan. From the end of March until the mid-April the cherry blossoms are in full bloom for a short period of time. Both the locals and the visitors to Japan make it a point in admiring the cherry blossoms in all their glory and enjoying a party beneath the blossoms.
The hanami party is one of the greatest attractions of the season. Those who wish to enjoy hanami reserve a place in the park beneath the cherry blossoms from as early as 7 AM. Let's see what's the usual menu for a hanami party.
At a hanami party, the participants enjoy a variety of dishes that can easily be shared with everyone. Let’s check out the dishes which can be packed as essential picnic foods for sakura viewing.
Bento are packed lunch boxes, which can be prepared at home or bought before the picnic. Those eaten at hanami parties are called hanami bento, and feature items like makizushi (sushi rolls), inarizushi (sushi rice stuffed in fried tofu pouches), tamagoyaki (Japanese-style omelet) and kamaboko (pink and white fish cakes).
Hanami bento are especially customized and sold at supermarkets during the cherry blossom season. They are a hit among the locals and visitors alike.
Meat dishes that can be easily shared and eaten with chopsticks are also popular for picnics in Japan. These include karaage (boneless, bite-sized Japanese fried chicken), takoyaki (grilled octopus balls) and ebi-fry (breaded fried shrimp). These items can be made at home and packed for the hanami party. Grilled dishes, with their delicious taste, are especially popular as foods to enjoy at a hanami party.
To accompany meat dishes, one can buy or prepare a variety of vegetable dishes such as salads and pickled vegetables (tsukemono). Typical Japanese salads are kinpira gobo (braised carrot and burdock root salad), shiro-ae (blanched vegetable and mashed tofu salad), potato salad, and salads made with hijiki seaweed and lotus root. Japanese pickles are a great side dish and can be savored with all main picnic food items.
Onigiri (rice balls) are another favorite for hanami picnics, as they are easy to carry, easy to eat, and their fillings come in a variety of flavors, such as ume (pickled plum), salmon and tuna mayonnaise. During hanami season, one can even find sakura onigiri made with salted cherry blossoms. Onigiri are very filling and are really delicious and healthy when savored together with a cup of green tea.
While most hanami food is meant to be served at room temperature, one can also bring warm miso soup along as the weather is still cool, especially in the evening. Hot miso soup can be stored in a thermos and poured into cups for everyone to drink. Since miso soup is Japan’s staple food, it is considered very thoughtful to bring some for the hanami party.
For dessert, the best choice is undoubtedly sakuramochi - a type of wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) enjoyed during cherry blossom season. It is a rice cake filled with red bean paste and wrapped in a salted cherry blossom leaf.
Hanami dango are another type of wagashi eaten during hanami. Dango are basically three dumplings (green, white, and pink) served together on a bamboo skewer. These three colors are a distinctive feature of Japanese spring sweets.
Strawberries, with their refreshing taste, are also a popular hanami dessert. They can be eaten plain or with sweetened condensed milk drizzled over them. Other fruits like oranges and kiwi are popular as well. It is recommended to cut the fruit in bite-sized pieces before digging in.
Japanese picnics would be incomplete without drinks. Sake is the traditional hanami drink, and Japanese people affectionately refer to sake drinking under the cherry blossom trees as hanami-zake. Beer is also a very popular choice, with many breweries releasing seasonal beer cans decorated with cherry blossoms designs.
Hanami drinks aren’t limited to alcoholic beverages alone. Juice, cold or hot tea and coffee are also good choices and can be bought from nearby vending machines and convenience stores. A variety of sakura-flavored drinks are also available for a limited time during hanami.
Hanami party is so popular in Japan that it is celebrated as a festival itself. It is the time to enjoy with friends, colleagues and family. Most of the parks are abuzz with activity on weekends as well as on weekdays. It is recommended to make all the preparations beforehand and decide the menu ahead of time to enjoy a hassle-free hanami party.