All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Mochi rice cakes

Mochi is made from mochigome sweet rice. Sweet rice is soaked in water, steamed, and pounded until smooth. These days it is usually made by machine. Some families have a mochi maker or a bread machine that is also capable of making mochi.

Scenes of people gathering to pound mochi or watch the process are mostly of the past, but you still occasionally see the large wooden mortar and mallet used in mochi-making at community events and promotions at shopping arcades and other businesses.

When I was young  -- until the early 70s, I would say -- my family joined relatives at my grandmother's house to make mochi and get their share. My uncles took turns pounding steamed sweet rice with a giant wooden mallet, and my aunts kept the surface of the pounded rice moist to prevent it from sticking  to the mallet. It was a rhythmical, collaborative process -- one blow with the mallet, a pat from the side to wet the mochi, another blow, a pat, and so on. When mochi is just finished, it is soft and warm, and we usually ate it with grated daikon radish and a drizzle of soy sauce. The mochi was then flattened into large rectangles and divided into small squares after it got hard enough to cut. Some mochi was made into rounds, in three or four different sizes. Larger round mochi was for kagamimochi display at home for the New Year, and small rounds were to be eaten straight away (kagamimochi display rounds were also eaten eventually). In terms of flavor variations, yomogi mugwort (Artemisia princeps) was added to make kusamochi, black soybeans for mamemochi, and kombu kelp for kobumochi.

We -- my family and relatives at least -- normally eat these mochi with added ingredients as a snack, by grilling and dipping them into a soy sauce and sugar mixture. Plain mochi is eaten as a snack in the same way, or added to sweetened azuki bean soup called oshiruko or zenzai (both snacks). As part of a meal, mochi is often added to okayu porridge, noodles, stews, and ozoni New Year's Day soup.

Mochi is a good-luck food. Just like sake, food made from rice holds some animistic qualities related to folk beliefs in Japan, where rice cultivation began thousands of years ago.

Be aware that each piece of business-card-size mochi contains as many calories as a bowl of rice. Do not be deceived by what you see. One additional caution: Because mochi is very dense and sticky, half a dozen people, usually seniors, die in Japan from choking when eating mochi as part of an auspicious meal (the figure is reported as one of the first news items of the new year). So if you have any doubts about your mastication abilities, you may be better off not putting a big piece of mochi in your mouth.

There are also other types of mochi: Japanese confectioneries that are partly made of ground rice powder (mochi ice cream is one example), and food that does not contain rice or rice powder but has a glutinous texture like rice cake mochi (ex. "renmochi" deep-fried renkon lotus root dumplings). However, when you see or hear the word mochi, it usually means rice cakes.

Recipes with mochi
  • Abekawamochi / rice cakes with sweetened roasted soybean flour
  • Azukigayu / rice porridge with azuki beans 
  • Ozoni / New Year's Day soup with rice cakes
  • Yakimochi to satojoyu / grilled rice cakes, with sweetened soy sauce dip
  • Zenzai / sweet azuki soup with rice cakes
Try moyashi in the following recipes

(Last updated: January 28, 2016)

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