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Mochi is a Japanese rice cake, made from mochigome, or "mochi rice". Mochi is made by pounding cooked mochigome, which is traditionally done manually with a wooden mallet. The preparation of mochi is actually a big deal, especially during New Years when mochitsuki takes place. Mochitsuki is done by two people, one who pounds the mochi with the wooden mallet and the other who flips the mochi after each pound and wets the mochi to soften up the mochigome.
Nowadays it is difficult to find homes who actually engage in the traditional mochitsuki custom. Many people opt to buying pre-made mochi that they can just grill. In neighborhood communities though, you might still be able to find events during the New Years that do mochitsuki. At these events, the locals are generally allowed to participate and pound the mochi while a more experienced person flips the mochi due to safety risks. Mothers and grandmothers often help shape the mochi into small portions for everyone to enjoy.
Mochi is enjoyed both savory and sweet and can be prepared multiple ways. During New Years, mochi is enjoyed in ozoni. Ozoni is a type of soup enjoyed specifically on New Years and includes mochi, vegetables, and kamaboko or other poultry like chicken. In ozoni, the mochi can be grilled or boiled before put in the soup, depending on the region. Another way mochi is used in soup form is with certain noodle dishes like chikara udon, an udon dish with mochi. Mochi can also be enjoyed savory when it is grilled and flavored with soy sauce then wrapped in seaweed, which is called isobeyaki.
Mochi can also be enjoyed sweet, as a snack. One popular form is dango, which is actually made from mochiko. Two popular types of dango include mitarashi dango and anko dango. Mitarashi dango is dango flavored with syrup made from soy sauce, sugar, and starch. Anko dango is dango with sweetened red bean paste. Both of these dangos are stuck on skewers, often with 3 or 4 dangos each. Mitarashi dango and anko dango can be found more easily than any other type of dango in grocery stores and convenience stores. Hanami dango is another popular type of dango, most enjoyed during the spring time, for "hanami" means flower viewing. Hanami dango consists of three balls of dango in the colors pink, white, and green.
Mochi is also used in wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets. Wagashi which accompanies tea during green tea ceremony often includes mochi. Daifuku is also a sweet mochi, with red bean filling. Another type of daifuku is the ichigo daifuku, which is a daifuku with a whole strawberry inside instead of red bean paste.
Mochi ice cream is perhaps one of the more popular ways to enjoy mochi in the U.S. It is like a daifuku, but instead of red bean paste or strawberries, the mochi surrounds a ball of ice cream. Mochi ice cream is served as desserts in some restaurants and sold in Japanese markets or larger grocery markets.
In Japan, mochi and ice cream are also enjoyed together but as a dessert called "shiratama cream anmitsu". Shiratama refers to the white mochi balls, cream the ice cream, and anmitsu the red bean. At the base is agar agar jelly topped with fruits, shiratama, and red bean or red bean paste. Black sugar syrup called "kuromitsu" is also drizzled on to add more flavor.
Osechi Ryori are traditional Japanese New Years dishes served in jūbako
New Years is the most important holiday and tradition
Mochi snack of Yamanashi served with kuromitsu and kinako
Skewered Grilled Rice Cakes