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Chimaki: Rice cake

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Chimaki is a triangle-shaped rice cake wrapped with leaves such as bamboo, reed, or other flat leaves. In Western countries, it is also known as rice dumplings. It usually uses glutinous rice, regular rice, or rice flour to make rice cake. The whole rice cake wrapped with leaves will be steamed or boiled, and eaten by peeling off the leaves.

Chimaki originally comes from China, and it was introduced to Japan in the Heian Period (794-1185). In China, it is called zongzi, and fillings such as pork, or red bean paste is often added inside the rice cake. On the other hand, the original Japanese chimaki simply use rice cake without other fillings.

In a dictionary written during the Heian period, the word chimaki appears, and describes the way to make it, which is by wrapping glutinous rice with leaves, and boiling in lye. Chimaki was originally a preservable food using the antibacterial power, antiseptic of lye, and was also a portable food for feudal warriors to take to the battlefield.

In the Edo period (1603-1868), four different kinds of chimaki was introduced in a book about herbalism. The first Japanese to use bamboo leaves as wrapping was a confectionary craftsman in Kyoto named Kawabata Doki, and the Kawabata family still makes chimaki as a typical Kyoto confectionary. Chimaki as a Kyoto confectionary use arrowroot starch instead of rice.

There is a tradition to eat chimaki on boy’s festival, or so called children’s day, on May 5th. In ancient China, a poet named Kutsugen died on May 5th, and to remember the death of him, chimaki started be eaten in China, and the tradition passed on to Japan.


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