Cherry Blossoms and Japanese Cuisine

You have likely heard of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC, a popular springtime event which attracts thousands of visitors to admire the blooming cherry blossoms. Philadelphia has its own version of this festival, which is appropriately focused on a celebration of Japanese culture and food, as well as these beautiful trees.


Cherry blossoms and cherry blossom festivals are rooted in Japanese culture and expressions of friendship. The Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates such a Japanese gesture: in 1912, the mayor of Tokyo gave 3,000 cherry trees to the national capital, and the ongoing festival commemorates this gesture and the friendship between the two countries.

The Japanese version of the cherry blossom festival runs from March to May, and across a wide swath of Japan, starting in the south and moving to the north. Appropriately, food is a vital part of Sakura Matsuri or the cherry blossom festival. In honor of this wonderful spring celebration, here are a few Japanese foods that you might consider trying in the coming months:

Sakura Mochi: A traditional Japanese dish in honor of cherry blossoms, Sakura Mochi is cherry blossom rice cake. The rice cake (Mochi) is made from rice flour and water, while the pink of Sakura Mochi comes from strawberry jam. Also in the cake is Japanese sweet bean filling, while the full rice cake is wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom tree leaf.

Ichigo Daifuku: Another pink food tradition, these are sweets with a strawberry at their center (spring is also the time in Japan for strawberries). Ichigo Daifuku are made from rice and sweet red or white bean paste, formed into an outside shell in whose center sits a strawberry. They are sold all over Japan, and often enjoyed with green tea.

Ikanago no kugi-ni: Literally meaning “nails that hit the spot” (because of the resemblance), ikanago are Japanese sand eels which are caught in February and March. Seasoned with soy sauce, sweet rice wine, sugar and ginger, they are cooked until they are almost caramelized. Usually enjoyed on top of rice, they too are sold all over Japan.

You might also keep an eye out this spring for light pink and cherry blossom flavored Kit Kat bars. Unfortunately, there is nowhere but Japan to buy them, but you might be able to find them in a Japanese or food specialty store.

As cherry blossom festivals both here and in Japan tell us, spring is a great time for celebrating with family and friends, for birthdays, graduations, or reunions. If you are planning such an event in the Philadelphia region and need full catering services, contact Jerry’s Kitchen for both creative and cosmopolitan ideas.

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