Guest writer: ★rui#8760
Are you looking for something sweet that can be eaten with almost anything? What about something that can be versatile with its fillings and can be eaten at any time of the day? This gooey treat has it all! From its history, to how it’s made, let’s take a look at one of Japan’s most loved delicacies: mochi.
Mochi is one of Japan’s most famous treats, and has its very own interesting origins. It’s even eaten during a variety of events! Let’s get the kine, usu, and our mochigome as we learn all about mochi!
Lore and Origin
Would you believe that the first mochi-making ceremony was held by the time the “holy powers”, or Kami, descended onto Earth? This ceremony was held with them using red rice instead of the standard mochigome used to this day. In reality, the first account of mochi being made was in China. China grew copious amounts of glutinous rice due to it being needed in some of their traditions.
Back then, only the people with higher positions in society were able to eat mochi because it was a symbol of good luck to whoever ate it. Besides good luck, a happy marriage was also guaranteed to couples who decide to eat mochi together. Mochi was soon known as “food for the gods” and was a positive sign. It was also used as a religious offering by aristocrats. To think that this sweet snack had such a rich history is shocking, especially with how simple it looks from the outside!
Mochitsuki is the traditional way of making mochi. This is performed by “mochi-pounding”, and requires two people for the process. This is usually done around New Year’s, as a way to celebrate Japan’s principle of taking pride in your own work. Though it’s not recommended to do this process at home without professional help, it’s a very interesting process to go through!
Firstly, you have to prepare the rice. Ordinary rice cannot be used for this, you will have to find glutinous and sticky rice to create the mochi. The rice is washed and soaked for two days then is steamed until it’s soft.
Then, the most fun part comes: pounding the rice! The rice is put inside a stone mortar called an usu and is pounded by two people with a wooden mallet called a kine. They do this until the rice gets an airy and creamy texture. After that, the dough is flipped and smothered in hot water. The pounding continues until the desired texture is reached.
When the dough is finally ready, one person stops pounding the dough and goes to knead it instead. They have to keep a steady rhythm of pounding and kneading unless they want to get hit by the kine. It wouldn’t be fun to have your hand hammered hard by a wooden mallet! They keep doing the pound-knead action until the dough is the perfect texture for mochi.
This is either eaten as it is or shaped into other shapes, usually a sphere or a cube. Often, they put in fillings. An example of this is anko, a sweetened red bean paste, and mochi with anko stuffed inside is called daifuku.
There are also special types of mochi that are made in various events. Examples of the events include New Year, Children’s Day, Girls’ Day, and the onset of spring. This goes to show how mochi is loved, seeing how so many variations of it are made on special events!
On New Year, kinako mochi is made for good luck. The mochi is roasted over a fire, dipped into water, then coated with sugar and soy flour. Kagami mochi is also made as a decoration, placed in family altars every December 28th. The mochi is broken and then eaten in a ritual, this is called “mirror opening” or kagami biraki. Kagami mochi consists of two spheres of mochi, the smaller one on top of the larger one, stacked on top of each other with a bitter orange placed on top. To read more about New Year’s traditions in Japan, check out this article here!
In spring, sakura mochi is made. This is to resemble the cherry blossoms in Japan, which are one of the greatest things spring in Japan has to offer. Sakura mochi is basically pink mochi with an anko filling and a salted cherry leaf wrapped on one side. It’s really cool to have a seasonal snack representing one of Japan’s most beautiful symbols!
Childrens’ Day is celebrated in Japan on May 5, and two types of mochi are served during the date. Kashiwamochi is one of the two made. This is basically white mochi with a sweet red bean paste inside, along with a Kashiwa leaf wrap. Another one is chimaki, in which a leaf is wrapped around the dough with the filling inside and steamed. These are usually served in supermarkets and festivals during Children’s Day.
Conclusion: Japan’s Iconic Rice Cake
In conclusion, mochi basically means “celebration”. We have to celebrate life, and even the smallest rice cake can make us remember that. Though the rice cake has many variations, mochi is one of the most popular because of how colorful it is and how creative you can be when making your own batch of it. You can even put it in a bowl of soup, or stuff some ice cream inside!
When visiting Japan, be sure to try out some mochi. Even better, you can try making it! Mochi is not only a symbol of celebration, but also a symbol of hard work. The main lesson we can learn from making and eating this sweet snack is that you will always be able to harvest the fruits of your labor. You can even buy mochi ice cream in your local supermarket if you’re unable to go to Japan or not too confident that you can make it yourself.
Why wait? Now that you’ve “pounded” out everything you need to know, go give it a taste, and maybe even share some pictures with us and your experience too!