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Intoduction to Mochi Rice Cakes

It is so surprise that the Japanese love rice. It has been the nationfs staple food for centuries, much like bread to Western cultures and poi to Pacific Islanders. So it is only natural that many of Japanfs favorite dishes spring from this vital crop. Among these is mochi. Although the English translation refers to mochi as rice cake, mochi does not have a cake-like consistency at all.

Mochi is made from sweet, glutinous polished (white) rice that is soaked, steamed and pounded into a sticky, doughy confection. It is eaten plain, coated with sugar and kinako (toasted soybean flour), filled with anko (red bean paste) or other fillings as well as toasted, poached or fried. In eastern Japan, mochi tends to be cut into rectangles while the mochi in western Japan often is formed into round patties.

Although mochi is enjoyed on a day-to-day basis, it is an essential food around the new year. Here is important mochi-related vocabulary to know:

Mochitsuki-A communal event featuring the pounding of steamed sweet rice into mochi. Traditionally, men took turns using a kine (wooden mallet) to pound the cooked rice in a stone or wooden usu (mortar) and using their hands to turn the sticky hot dough while the women waited for each batch to be ready for rolling and patting into small discs.

Kagami Mochi-A traditional good luck symbol that decorates mantels and other areas of the home. Kagami means gmirrorh and this is made with a small mochi cake atop a larger mochi cake that *mirror* each other. A small daidai orange is placed on the very top. Some people use a tangerine but a daidai orange is the original fruit used because it symbolizes many generations. The daidai orange is said to be able to stay on the tree for two years. But because it is bitter, it usually is not eaten.

Zoni or Ozoni Soup-The goh before certain words, in this case gzoni,h is often used to show honor or respect in the Japanese language. Ozoni is eaten on New Yearfs Day to bring good luck. There are regional variations of zoni but basically, it is made with fish or konbu (seaweed) stock and garnished with greens like horenso (spinach) or mizuna (mustard leaves) that represents both health and wealth, sliced kamaboko (steamed fish cake), negi (green onions or leeks) and of course, mochi. In western regions, shiro miso (white soybean paste) is added while some families add personal favorites of shiitake mushrooms, fish, carrots or udon noodles.

Daifuku-Daifuku (big belly mochi) is filled mochi cakes. The fillings vary but mostly consist of anko (red bean paste), shiroan (white bean paste) and whole or mashed fruits. To prevent from sticking, daifuku is coated lightly with potato starch or cornstarch. Daifuku is a type of wagashi or Japanese sweet. Not all wagashi sweets are made from mochi.
Arare or kakimochi-Dried, fried and seasoned rice crackers made from mochi. A very popular snack in Japan, arare comes in all sizes, shapes and flavors. Most are seasoned with soy sauce, seaweed and sesame seeds (goma).

Dango-These are mochi-like dumplings made from mochiko or sweet rice flour rather than from pounded steamed sweet rice. There are many types of delicious dango. Some are skewered. Some are grilled. Some dango are eaten only during certain seasons.

Hishi Mochi-A colorful tri-layer, diamond-shaped mochi eaten on Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival or GirlsfDay) that occurs on March 3rd. The bottom green layer is made with yomogi or mugwort to represent good health, fertility and the green of spring; the white middle layer, made from water chestnuts, represents cleansing snow and purity. The top pink layer symbolizes spring flowers.

Kinako Mochi-Kinako is toasted soybean flour. Lightly tan in color, it is sweetened with some granulated sugar before coating lightly poached mochi.

Kirimochi-Mochi that is cut into rectangles and packaged. It is slightly hardened so it must be grilled, poached, microwaved or steamed before eating. Because of its convenience, kirimochi is found in many Japanese pantries for day-to-day eating.

Kusa Mochi-A green hued mochi made with the green leaves of the yomogi or mugwort plant.

Isobe Yaki or Norimaki Mochi-Toasted mochi, sprinkled with soy sauce and wrapped in a roasted sheet of nori (seaweed).

Oshiruko Mochi-Red azuki bean soup topped with pieces of white mochi.

Sakuramochi-A pretty pink mochi filled with an then wrapped with a lightly brined cherry leaf. There are regional variations, but sakuramochi usually is eaten during Sakura (cherry) season and on Girlsf Day (Hinamatsuri).

Enjoy mochi in every season, but do be careful. Dozens of deaths in Japan each year are reportedly due to choking on this sticky confection. Usually the victims are elderly who have weakened mouth and throat muscles. In any case, eat wisely by taking small bites and chew well. This is a good tip for proper and civilized eating no matter what you put into your mouth. Letfs hope your next bite will be delicious mochi!

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