Facts About Japanese Chimaki

Chimaki

Judy Ung

Chimaki is a Japanese dumpling made of various ingredients, that is wrapped in a leaf (bamboo, banana, or reed) and steamed.

Background

In Japanese culture, chimaki, or dumplings, are enjoyed on May 5th to celebrate Japanese Children’s Day, also known as “kodomo no hi” and previously referred to as Boys’ Day. On this national holiday, all boys and girls across Japan are celebrated to wish for their happiness and good health.

It is believed chimaki originated from Chinese culture. Zongzi, the Chinese equivalent of the Japanese chimaki, is a sticky rice dumpling. Traditionally, zongzi is enjoyed on the fifth day of the fifth lunar calendar, or May 5th, to celebrate the Duanwu Festival, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival.

Chinese zongzi differs from Japanese chimaki, largely due to the fillings that are used in the sticky rice dumpling. For example, zongzi might include egg, duck, chicken, pork, barbecue char siu, sausage, peanuts, chestnuts, red bean paste or mung bean paste.

Types of Chimaki

In Japanese cuisine, there are two categories of chimaki: sweet and savory.

1. Sweet chimaki might include fillings such as glutinous rice, sweet red bean gelatin known as “yokan,” or kudzu (arrowroot) powder and is enjoyed as a snack or dessert.

2. Savory chimaki, much like the Chinese zongzi, includes a mixture of sticky glutinous rice, meat, and vegetables. Some of the meats commonly used are chicken and pork, while vegetables might include young bamboo shoots (takenoko), shiitake mushrooms, carrots, burdock root (gobo), chestnuts (kuri), or gingko nuts. Savory chimaki is often enjoyed as an appetizer, snack, or meal.

In Japan, as Children’s Day approaches, the sweet dessert type of chimaki is usually available for sale in supermarkets, sweet shops or cafes. Similar chimaki snacks might be available for sale in Japanese supermarkets in Western or European countries. However, a simple version of sweet chimaki can easily be made at home.

Cooking Methods

Making chimaki using the traditional method can be complicated. In this method, uncooked glutinous rice is soaked overnight, drained, and then wrapped in a bamboo, banana or reed leaf along with various ingredients. The process of wrapping uncooked rice can be challenging. The chimaki is then steamed for 50 minutes to 1 hour until the glutinous rice and other ingredients are fully cooked.

An easier and less time-consuming method of making chimaki is to first steam the glutinous rice in a rice cooker and then wrap the cooked rice in a leaf and steam for a shorter period of time (15 to 20 minutes). In the event bamboo, banana, or reed leaves are not easily accessible to the home cook, the process of steaming the cooked glutinous rice in the leaf can be omitted entirely. One of the benefits of steaming the rice with the leaf is that the leaf imparts a pleasant fragrance and mild taste to the rice, but this step can be eliminated, and the glutinous rice will still be quite enjoyable.