Mochi: A sticky, chewy, and culturally important Japanese treat

Mateusz “Sketch” Gorski ’18, Entertainment/News Editor

Anybody who has heard the word “mochi” will immediately think of that small ball of ice cream wrapped in a weird, chewy rice dough. That is not true mochi; The actual mochi is the chewy stuff wrapped around it. Mochi is a very popular treat in Japan and has been for centuries. It is essentially sweet rice that is pounded into a sticky, sweet, chewy, dough-like blob of rice cake.  Back in ancient Japan, mochi was used as an offering to the gods in Shinto rituals performed by aristocrats. However, this treat later started being made and consumed by everyone in Japan, and has become a staple in Japanese desserts ever since.

The traditional process of making mochi is called mochitsuki (餅搗き), or “mochi pounding.” Steamed rice is placed in a large usu (碓), or “mortar.” The mochi pounding is a multiple-person process. One person will continuously apply more rice to the mochi, while another person quickly pounds on the mochi with a large wooden mallet, and another flips the mochi simultaneously. This process has been used for centuries, and even has ceremonies held in its honor where one can appreciate it and enjoy authentic mochi.

There are two images synonymous with mochitsuki: a rabbit and the moon. This is because, as we see a man in the moon, the Japanese see a rabbit pounding mochi with a mallet. Interestingly enough, the “tsuki” in “mochitsuki” also translates to “moon” (月).

Don’t be too careless, however. Despite being squishy, sweet, and having an adorable name, this dessert has some blood on its hands. Because of its extreme stickiness, eating mochi comes with a high risk of suffocation. In fact, every New Year, a few people die from choking on mochi despite annual warnings. Ninety-percent of these victims tend to be seniors age 65 or older. To avoid this and enjoy your treat, chew and chew until safe to swallow, and perhaps take smaller bites.

Despite this, mochi continues to be a treat that everyone across Japan enjoys, and they even have a number of different varieties of the dish. I have listed many different dishes of mochi and mochi-based treats, and even some desserts that are similar or related to the sticky rice cake (see sidebar). I hope to help you discover delicious sweets and teach you about Japan’s beautiful culture through this simple dish.

Daifuku – Mochi filled with anko (sweet red bean paste).

Sakura Mochi – Sweet pink-colored mochi filled with anko and wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom leaf.

Warabi Mochi – Unlike true mochi, warabi mochi is made from bracken starch and covered or dipped in kinako (roasted soybean flour).

Botamochi/Ohagi – Mochi made with anko cooked into it.

Kuzumochi – Mochi made of kuzuko (starch made from the kudzu plant).

Kusamochi – Mochi made with leaves of Japanese mugwort or from Jersey cudweed.

Hishimochi – Tri Colored blocks of mochi made for the Hinamatsuri (ひな祭り) “Girl’s Day” festival.

Hanabiramochi – Thin mochi folded over anko. Eaten at the beginning of a new year.

Kirimochi/Marumochi – Unsweetened mochi dried and packed into hard blocks that are used for cooking. Marumochi is the same thing, only round.

Mochi Ice Cream – The treat that everyone who’s heard of mochi is familiar with. It is simply ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of mochi.

Pon de Ring – First ice cream, and now donuts! Pon de rings are donuts made from mochi. Arranging eight small balls of mochi into a ring, the donut is then fried and glazed to create a sweet and chewy treat.

Dango – While not exactly mochi, as mochi is made from rice and dango is made from mochiko (rice powder), it is a mochi-like treat that is made into small balls and skewered, then coated in a sweet syrup made from soy sauce, starch, and sugar. Eaten year-round, but is a popular treat to have during Hanami (花見), a traditional event where people picnic and enjoy the week that sakura (cherry blossom) trees finally bloom. One of my personal favorite Japanese treats, so I highly recommend it.

Mizu Shingen Mochi – Certainly the most interesting treat, mizu shingen mochi, or “raindrop cake,” is a transparent cake that is made from just mineral water and agar (a vegan alternative to gelatin). The transparency gives the cake a raindrop-like appearance, and, while lacking flavor, it is a refreshing treat to enjoy alongside sweet kuromitsu (black sugar syrup) and kinako.

Picture courtesy of Pintrest

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