If you have been to Japan or have heard of this wonderful country, then you may know of a delicious type of cake that Japan is very famous for, Japanese rice cake, also known as Mochi. Mochi is a rice cake that is made of steamed glutinous rice. It is Japan’s staple food, and it is used as the main ingredient in a lot of different dishes in Japanese cuisine including main dishes and desserts.

The History of Mochi

Just like many other Asian desserts, mochi’s origin is unknown. Since rice has been around forever and is the main ingredient in every Asian culture, a lot of different Asian countries, especially East and Southeast Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, incorporated rice in their traditional dishes. Mochi was believed to be created in China then widely adopted and modified by other neighboring countries. Japan and Korea both have been known for their delicious chewy mochi. As early as the tenth century, mochi has been used as an imperial offering in religious ceremonies. In Japan, mochi is also used as a treat when the Japanese celebrate their New Year. This tradition is believed to be started from the Heian Period in Japan, which was between the years of 794 to 1192.

How Is Mochi Made?

The process of making mochi is pretty simple. First, we soak glutinous rice overnight, then we steam it until it is fully cooked. Since glutinous rice has a very high content of gluten and sugar, it will become sticky once steamed. In the traditional way, mochi is made by continuously pounding cooked sticky rice in a wooden or stone mortar. The mortar used in this process is not an ordinary one. Instead, it is an oversized mortar that is almost waist-high standing on the ground. After sticky rice is cooked, we put it in the mortar and pound on it using a wooden mallet. This process takes some time and a lot of effort, but it is worth it. In Japan, there is a ceremony called “mochitsuki” which means “pounding mochi.” This ceremony often attracts a lot of people to come and watch since its process is unique. There will be two people, one will keep on pounding and another one will turn the mochi and drizzle water on it so it can be moist and pliable. The pairs must work in sync or the one who turns the mochi will get his hand smashed by the person who pounds. Once the pounding process is done, the mochi becomes very smooth and stretchy. It will then be divided into smaller pieces and shaped into round semi-flat domes.

Daifuku Mochi – Photo by Rachelle on Bear Naked Food

Variations of Mochi

In Japan, mochi is used in a wide variety of dishes from savory to sweet. For instance, in a savory dish known as Chikara Udon, pieces of toasted mochi are added on top. Chikara udon is an udon noodle soup dish made of udon noodles, kelp and bonito broth, and mochi on top. As in desserts, the Japanese invented a lot of different dishes with mochi. The most common type of mochi dessert you can find in Japan as well as in Asian supermarkets in the United States is daifuku mochi, which means mochi stuffed with a sweet filling, usually red bean paste.

In China and Taiwan, mochi is often coated in coconut flakes, peanut powder, or black sesame powder and is served as dessert. The mochi can also be stuffed with a sweet paste such as red bean paste or black sesame paste. 

In Vietnam, there is a variation of mochi that is often eaten as a savory dish called “bánh giầy.” Unlike the Japanese or Chinese mochi, the Vietnamese variation of mochi is a little bit thicker in texture but still as smooth and stretchy. The banh giay can be eaten as is or with a thick slice of Vietnamese ham. It is perfect for breakfast.

If you have not tried mochi before, try it some days when you have a chance. It is very delicious and available in almost every Asian supermarket.

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