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I read with envy Alejandro Gallegos’ post on tamales, part of his family holiday tradition. For Japanese Americans, sticky rice cakes or mochi are a New Year’s tradition, but not many people make it by hand any more because it’s a labor intensive, community project.
Watch and Learn
Last year, my husband and I joined a group at a local Buddhist temple in early December for a day of mochi making. It involved rhythmically pounding the steamed hot rice in a big stone mortar with a wooden pestle and was fueled by some drinking of sake. The women were in the kitchen, receiving mounds of hot glutinous rice, chopping it up and rolling it in rice flour to form neat little cakes. Though the short video shown on "Mochitsuki" is in Japanese, the process is exactly the same in northern California.
However, if you want to do this at home in a tiny batch, this cute, short Doraemon video gives you a basic idea.
How Do You Eat Your Rice Cake?
Families have different ways of eating it; some put sweet red bean paste inside and make it a pastry-like concoction. Others like their rice cakes with soy sauce. My favorite taste treat is to let the cake harden for a few days, then grill it over slow heat so the outside is brown and crispy and the inside is soft and sticky. My third generation children love to roll the grilled cakes in brown sugar.
Unfortunately, few families nowadays own the stone or concrete huge mortars or the special wooden mallets. One can purchase a Tiger electric mochi maker, but $200 plus is pretty pricey for a specialized machine. Part of my nostalgia for mochi is not only the infrequency of making it, but also the fact that it’s a group effort to produce the batches of sticky rice cakes. Read about this on page 226 and 227 in the aptly named Seductions of Rice book or in Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. Basically, these authors say: “Buy it in a store.” Another cultural tradition being lost . . .
Karen Y. shudders to think of the calories consumed in each sticky pounded rice cake dipped in sugar, but hey, once a year at New Year’s? Unfortunately, you can never stop with just one mochi.