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Mochi making in Japan is the art of making sticky rice cake, which is traditionally eaten around Lunar New Year and is made from ‘mochiko’ (sweet rice flour), which is used both in savoury and sweet dishes. The Chinese version of these delights is known as “nian gao”” which literally translates to “year cake” and is an indispensable part of New Year celebrations. It is normally eaten alongside New Year’s Ozoni soup or baked with soy sauce.
Traditionally, mochi was made by steaming a special short grain glutinous rice, known as ‘mochigome’, then pounding it in a very large mortar with mallets until it loses any semblance of its grains and becomes a big gooey gelatinous ball. As the mochi mass remains malleable for an extended period of time, artisans can make mochi sweets in varied shapes such as squares, spheres, stars or triangles.
However, as turning mochigome rice into mochi is a labour intensive process, many have substituted its use with the powdered sweet rice flour known as mochiko. Being in a dried, powder form, mochiko is much easier to store and simpler to use, as it can be made into mochi by adding water and steaming.
That being said, although mochiko is made from the same mochigome rice that has been grounded and dried into a very fine flour, mochi fans say that mochiko-based mochi doesn’t have the same stretchy and chewy texture as traditionally-made mochi.
Also, mochiko-based mochi is softer than traditionally-made mochi but can be made to stay soft by adding lots and lots of sugar, making the dish quite sweet. A compromise can be made on the sugar content for immediate consumption, but this affects the texture and shelf life of the sweet.
With sweet mochi, a variety of Japanese sweets can be made. Daifuku Mochi can be made by wrapping a ball of anko (sweet red bean paste) with mochi. Mochi ice cream is made by stuffing the ice cream with mochi or as a topping. Kinako (soy bean powder) can be sprinkled on mochi and popped in as sweet munchies.
Mochi is made from simple ingredients that are easily available in super markets. Using mochiko as a thickening agent, mochi can be easily made. Care should be taken in dissolving the sugar. A safe method is by adding the sugar in parts while it dissolves completely and evenly.
Mochi making is both an art and a tradition. It is often referred to as “o-mochi”, an honorific added to show that this is considered a sacred food. It can either be sweet or savoury, and are steamed, pounded, or pan-fried. Its use of simple and readily available ingredients (mochigome rice aside), makes mochi easy to prepare just about anywhere, so don’t think twice, go ahead and make your very own mochi.