Mochi See, Mochi Do
We get a lot of customer emails here at AsianFoodGrocer.com. One of the most frequently asked questions that we receive is: What is a rice cake? Do you bake it in the oven? Is it soft and fluffy? Or are they those dried circle things that come in bread packages like at the grocery store? If you've ever asked yourself any of these questions, you're in luck! We're going to tell you exactly what they are!
The actual name for rice cakes is Mochi. Mochi is a very soft and extremely sticky food that is made out of short grain sweet rice and has the texture of raw cookie dough. To make mochi, polished sticky rice is soaked overnight in water. Once the rice has thoroughly absorbed the water, it is cooked and then pounded into a paste using a mortar and a giant wooden mallet called a kine.
Two people are needed to properly use the mortar and mallet. One continually turns and wets the mortar to keep the mallet strikes even and to insure that the paste has the right consistency. The other person wields the mallet. The two must work at a strict steady rhythm to make sure that they don't injure one another. Getting hit on the noggin with a very large wooden mallet would not make very good mochi, ouch! The super sticky paste is then shaped into various forms.
Mochi normally is shaped into rectangles or spheres then stored away for use later. But more often than not, these sticky little buns are mixed with natural food colorings then shaped into beautiful flower shapes for special occasions like New Years. This style of edible art is called Wagashi, a traditional Japanese confection that focuses on the beauty of nature. Beautiful multicolored rice cakes are served alongside tea. Each skillfully crafted piece is filled with a number a sweet fillings like sweet adzuki red bean paste, lotus seed paste, and even sometimes fresh fruit. It doesn't have to be a special time of year to enjoy mochi however.
Finding mochi rice cakes filled with red bean is no problem as long as you know where to look. (Cough, cough! Asian Food Grocer) But for a real treat, Mochi Ice Cream is the way to go. When frozen, sweet and sticky mochi paste takes on the consistency of a marshmallow, so it is no wonder they fill it with ice cream! Typical flavors include creamy vanilla, fresh strawberry, rich chocolate, mellow green tea, and juicy tropical mango. We don't carry them yet here at AFG, but we may in the near future! Mochi pieces are also eaten in a sweet red bean soup called Oshiruko. Dongo is another very popular dumpling that is fire roasted then covered in a syrup made of soy sauce, sugar, and sometimes topped with toasted sesame seeds. Mochi is such a versatile food but to the novice beware. It's so incredibly sticky that it can actually pose a choking hazard if large bites are taken, so stick to nibbling. If sweets foods aren't your thing, don't fret! Mochi can be eaten in salty dishes too.
Eating mochi fried is very common. In fact, that's what we call Rice Crackers! When mochi is cooked in hot oil or baked in an oven, it puffs up almost like popcorn and becomes hard and crunchy. Rice Crackers are then glazed in a thin soy sauce mixture and then left to dry. Mochi can also be found in soups like Zoni, a traditional New Year's meal. It can also be spotted in Shabu Shabu, the Japanese style hot pot.
So go ahead and get yourself into a sticky situation with these not so cake like rice cakes!