Mother of all Mochi

I could make an entirely new blog for mochi, it seems like I have so much to say about it. Maybe this will be my last post about the rice cake, however I cannot promise anything.

As a break from recapping my winter holiday trips, I wanted to share the real, old school mochi making experience I finally got to experience – after so many tryouts and different variations of mochi!

Old-fashion mochi making
Old-fashion mochi making

Traditionally mochitsuki (mochi making) is New Years’ event. The mochigome (glutinous rice) is pounded with kine (wooden mallet) in usu (mortar made of stone). I got to try the pounding today, oh man it was fun! Not to mention the taste of the fruit of my labor…way better than any of the other mochi methods or variations I’ve tried before.

Sides and toppings for mochi: shoyu (soy sauce), kinako (soy bean powder) and daikon with sauce
Sides and toppings for mochi: shoyu (soy sauce), kinako (soy bean powder) and daikon with sauce

As my friend was trying to get rid of her soon-to-expire mochi, I started thinking of different ways to use the cakes. I have earlier mentioned about the usage of mochi. Apparently it is ok to fill mochi with anko (bean paste), kabocha (squash) or satsumaimo (sweet potato). However, it is considered odd to fill it with chocolate. Well, that didn’t stop me – and the Western friend, who usually doesn’t appreciate the bland chewiness of mochi, was rather pleased with the result! Fusion cooking at its’ best. I have not yet found a mochi that I actually like, but the interesting mochi journey continues…

Home-pound kinakomochi in a cup
Home-pound kinakomochi in a cup

Due to its’ sticky consistency, every year there are a number of unfortunate chocking deaths. Funny enough, since mochi represents several generations. This years’ number of casualties was 14. So, if you ever get to eat mochi, remember to chew!

Ichigo dango (strawberry mochi) in Tokiwa
Ichigo dango (strawberry mochi) in Tokiwa dept.store
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Mo’ mochi

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.

Mochi making for dummies, sensei-obaasan (plus 6 more)
Mochi making for dummies, sensei-obaasan (plus 6 other ladies)

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.

The green mochi get their color from mugwort that is hand-picked from the mountain!
Mochi filled with anko. The green ones get their color from yomogi (mugwort) that is hand-picked from the mountain!

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”.

Obaasan and the magic mochi machine
Obaasan and the magic mochi machine, anko balls in the front

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”.

Master at work, dividing the mochi rice dough into small balls
Master at work, dividing the mochi rice dough into small balls

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.

Not everyone is that perfect
Not everyone is that perfect

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.

These ladies are clearly not rookies
These ladies are clearly not rookies

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”).

Happy student with self-made treats
Happy student with self-made treats

More about the traditions and other activities with the seniors coming up soon(er or later)!