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Mochi - April 2009 Newsletter

 

Mochi is a Japanese confection that is made from a special type of sweet sticky rice. After soaking in water overnight, the rice is steamed and pounded, and then formed into small round balls or cakes. The traditional ritual of pounding the rice is called "mochi-tsuki", and is performed during the last week of the year in preparation for the upcoming New Year's celebration. The steamed rice is placed in a large wooden or stone mortar called "usu", and it is pounded into a glutinous paste with a heavy wooden mallet called "kine." Since the mallet is very heavy and pounding can take several hours, mochi-tsuki is shared by many members of the family from young to old. Usually the men would do the pounding, and the women would turn the rice in the usu, adding water, if necessary, to keep the rice from getting dry. After pounding is completed, the women and children make the mochi cakes by pulling off small pieces from the glutinous paste and shaping them. The children are also told about the folktale of the moon rabbit making mochi during the New Year's holiday. The rabbit is visible on the face of a full moon pounding her mochi in a mortar.

For the Japanese, the New Year or Shogatsu, is the most important holiday of the year. And of all the traditional foods eaten during the holiday celebration, mochi is the most significant because it symbolizes long life, wealth, and strength. It is eaten at the dawn of the New Year, or the mochi breakfast, sometimes plain but usually baked, broiled, toasted or fried and enhanced with condiments and flavorings. Some of these condiments range from typical Japanese fare like green tea powder, nori, sesame seeds, soy sauce, grated daikon, sweet bean paste and bean jam to American flavors like honey, salad dressing, scrambled eggs, cheese, cream cheese, peanut butter and fried bananas. Mochi is also added into "zoni", the New Year's soup consisting of seasonings, vegetables, fish, chicken or other meat.

Shogatsu is also the time to honor the ancestral gods and give offerings. A special decorative mochi, called "kagami-mochi", is made for this purpose and is left at the ancestral altar of the family in the main room of the house. The kagami-mochi is made of two round, flattened rice cakes of slightly different sizes, but about 12 inches in diameter. It is stacked one on top of the other with the bottom cake being the larger one. The two cakes symbolize the sun and the moon, and having two gives good luck. The round shape of the cakes stands for harmony and long life. Eventually, small pieces are cut from the kagami-mochi and are eaten by the family members, who believe this ritual will insure good health and good fortune for them.

In today's fast paced, high technology world, the ritual of mochi-tsuki is lost on the younger generation and is practiced by only a small percentage of Japanese families, by temples and shrines, or by special public demonstration groups during the New Year's celebration. Since many Japanese specialty stores, bakeries and food markets carry mochi, it is readily available year round because mochi is used in other confections and rice dishes as well as eaten for other festive occasions such as weddings, a baby's birth, birthdays and Shinto festivals. The many forms of mochi that are available in these markets allow one to make mochi in a variety of ways, in addition to the traditional method from scratch.

For those who want homemade mochi but don't have the time to devote to the whole process, mochi-making machines are available. These machines steam and pound the mochi for you, are made by popular Asian kitchen appliance makers such as National and Zojirushi, and are compact enough for the kitchen counter. In addition to making mochi, the machines will also knead bread and pizza dough, steam custards or sweet rice, cook noodles and steam or knead a variety of other foods as well. Many have an automatic timer and shut off to insure perfect food preparation.

If your curiosity and taste buds are tweaked now, go to a local Japanese food market and buy mochi that's ready-to-eat, ready-to-cook, or the ingredients to make from scratch at home with a mochi making machine or with family and friends during a mochi-tsuki party. You'll find mochi is delicious, low in calories, and a great addition to your diet. Why not start making them at home for yourself and your family? At Mrs. Lin's Kitchen, we offer one of the best, high quality mochi makers available on the market, and the perfect sweet rice to make a batch of yummy mochi for you to enjoy today!

 

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