It seems like I can’t get enough of experiencing what I call the “art of the rice cake”. I didn’t post about my trip to the (Korean rice cake) Tteok museum in Seoul, but yeah, I went there and discovered some of the differences and similarities the two countries and their rice treats have.
Back to Japan and mochi: After making mochi in Kurume in September, I have heard several times that one simply cannot make mochi with the rice flour that I bought from the store. “We don’t do it” they say, meaning that it would probably result in some kind of disaster if ever I attempted. Therefore, I went to see how mochi is really made.
I attended an exchange event in Hiji, a small town next to Beppu. In addition to the mochi we did some other activities, but another post about that. This one is just for the sticky rice cake that plays a key role in the Japanese cuisine, specially around New Year.
To make mochi, you need:
Glutinous rice (no, normal rice doesn’t work)
Anko (red bean paste) or possibly other filling such as jagaimo (sweet potato)
Yomogi (mugwort for coloring, optional)
Rice starch to prevent the mochi from sticking to everything
In the old days, mochi was made by putting mochigome (boiled sticky rice) into a wooden barrel container. The rice was patted with water while pounding it with a mallet. When mashing long enough, the dough became sticky dough. Nowadays, there’s no exercising involved: a rice cooker-like machine steams and shakes and takes care of the rice “dumplinging”.
Traditionally, mochi was pounded before New Year’s day and eaten during the beginning of January. Due to its’ sticky texture, there is a number of unfortunate choking deaths every year, which is ironic since the New Year’s version of mochi represents “several generations”.
Simple and fast once you know how to do it and since you want to avoid burning your hands with the hot dough: divide the rice to small balls, make round cakes, fill them with anko and make sure to cover the anko with the dough and voila! The starch keeps the cakes from not sticking to everything.
If the mochi has no filling, it is usually used for soups like zanzen, puffed in the toaster, or even eaten as pizza! The mochi dries quickly, but it softens back to its’ sticky self just as fast. Wrapped in the fridge, mochi lasts few weeks.
Specially now around New Years, dry mochi is displayed in all supermarkets. Here in the Southern part of Japan the cakes are usually round, while as in the East they are rectangular. To me, eating mochi isn’t that awesome. I guess the appeal is in the fact that mochi is something staple in Japan but exotic for me, plain like bread and very variable. I will definitely keep on working on trying all the different possible mochi I can, such as in ozoni (New year’s soup) if I only get the chance.
The exchange was not a bad way to spend a Saturday, or one’s birthday! You never stop learning from the elderly. And their style (check out the hats), whoa! We also wore super-cool aprons (mine said something about sweet flowers, my friend had “it wishes international peace”).
More about the traditions and other activities with the seniors coming up soon(er or later)!