Mochi is probably one of the chewiest Japanese foods you can possibly eat. In its hot, ground, raw form, I think someone could replace Spiderman’s web cartridges with mochi, and Spidey wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference.
Some dictionaries define mochi as a “Japanese rice cake,” but after seeing how it’s made I’d have to say it’s a little different than that.
Although there are some rather delicious rice cakes made from mochi, it’s more like a sticky dough made from glutinous rice. This “dough” is used to make the rice cakes, it’s sold in blocks, and is used to make a number of other Japanese dishes. A very tasty example of a mochi dish is shiruko (おしるこ), a soup made from sweet, red adzuki beans with small cubes of mochi mixed in.
With this delicacy being as big a part of Japanese culture as it is, let’s take a look at how to make mochi!
1. Mochigome – This is the MOST IMPORTANT ingredient. I thought that you could make mochi just by using regular rice, but that’s not true. Mochi is made using this special, glutinous rice called mochigome.
2. Water– Seems like a simple ingredient, but the water serves two very important purposes: 1) to get the mochi consistency you want, 2) to keep mochi from getting stuck to mallets, mortars and pestles.
1. Seirou– A wooden box steamer used to cook mochigome and keep it hot.
2. Usu– Large Wooden Mortars. These super heavy, wooden mortars will keep your mochi stable as you hammer it. Do they have to be made of wood? Not at all, but in the traditional, Japanese mochizuki events, the tools are made of wood. These mortars were so heavy it took two to three people just to turn them one side to roll them to their starting positions.
3. Kine– The mighty, wooden, mochi hammer. These are used to pound/grind glutinous rice into its stickier, mochi form.
When we were making mochi, we started grinding the mochigome using a stick type of kine, but I think these are optional.
4. A Sumo wrestler? – Okay, so maybe you don’t need a sumo wrestler, but it definitely made the mochitsuki at our school that much more exciting. With sumo wrestlers being as strong as they are, the can really come in handy later. I’m sure you’ll see why. keep reading 😉
Step One– Steam the mochigome until it softens. Keep it hot!
In our particular case, we used seriou (蒸籠/せいろう/steaming baskets) as we are making mochi for an entire school and will need to quickly be able to add hot mochigome to our wooden mortars.
Step Two– Add hot, glutinous rice (mochigome) to the wooden mortar.
Step Three– Add water and quickly begin to grind the mochigome with the wooden pestles, and or wooden hammers.
Step Four– Add water & knead the water into the mochi (like kneading dough).
Step Five– Hammer the mochi like a madman, but pace yourself.
Step Six– Have another person to add water and quickly knead water into the mochi between each strike (PLEASE BE CAREFUL HERE! See troubleshooting tips at the end of this post)
Step Seven– Repeat steps 5 & 6 over and over until you get the mochi consistency you want.
This year I had the pleasure of making mochi at my kindergarten for the very first time. I’m not sure if all secondary schools have this ceremony, as I’ve never taught Japanese high school, but I know most elementary schools and kindergartens make mochi via a school-wide, mochizuki ceremony.
Mochitsuki is the traditional process of making/pounding mochi. If we look at the kanji for mochitsuki, it combines the kanji for mochi (餅) and for “pounding”(搗き-tsuki) to give you mochitsuki (餅搗き).
This is without a doubt one of the biggest events I’ve seen during the school year.
I had no classes to teach on this particular day. I walked into the youchien (幼稚園/ようちえん/kindergarten) to find all of the kids wearing aprons and bandanas; a cute bunch of miniature cooks. I also saw that all of the staff members were decked out in bandanas and aprons. As I walked into the shokuinshitsu (職員室/しょくいんしつ/staff room), I was offered the choice of a Hello Kitty apron or turquoise green one. As much as I wanted to be funny and wear the Hello Kitty one, I decided to go with the turquoise instead.
The ceremony began with parent introductions. There were even two sumo wrestlers from a local stable who came to help out (yes, they’re actually called sumo stables). Once everything was all set up, My principal gave me tips on hammering technique, then he actually demonstrated! My principal, in his 70’s, put all of us younger guys to shame. He grabbed that hammer and showed that mochigome who was boss!
In my very first hammering session I was paired up with my principal. He was going to add water to the mochi as I would, carefully, hammer the mochigome. I picked up the largest hammer I could find and was surprised at how heavy it was. I don’t know how true this is, but it felt heavier than a sledgehammer to me. Despite the weight, hammering was exciting!
With each swing I imagined that I was famous folk hero, John Henry. But instead of being a steel-driving man I was a mochi-driving man. I pounded, and pounded, and pounded some more. When my hammering technique started to get sloppy, the tell-tale sign of mochi-pounding fatigue, I tag-teamed with one of the kindergarten dads.
We hammered until all of the mochi was done. Afterwards, the dads, the principal and I sat down for a mochi feast:
This was chance to sit down after a hard day’s work with some good people, eat some tasty mochi, and have some green tea. The Japanese practice was good, too!
This ceremony was so different from a sports day, but I can see exactly why it’s such a big part of Japanese culture. I don’t know about you guys, but I think the idea is brilliant. The mochizuki event is a great chance for teachers, moms, dads, kids, the principal, and other staff members to come together. The kids cheer the dads and teachers on as they take up gigantic wooden mochi mallets, and sweat it out as they pound that mochi into gooey submission.
It didn’t feel like a school event. It felt like a family event.
Choose a hammer that you can manage
When making mochi, the thing that I really didn’t account for was just how heavy the biggest wooden mallets were. I ended up using this one. Why? Because I wanted the challenge. If you’re not trying to turn your mochitsuki station into the latest version of P90X, please keep in mind there are different mallet sizes.
Making mochi is great fun, but it’s not as easy as you think it might be. When your forearms, hands and shoulders tire out (and if it’s your first time, they probably will) you can just pass the hammer off to someone else. Having a mochizuki buddy makes things much easier.
There is a swinging technique you have to get used to. When your hammer comes down, the idea is for your hammer to hit the mochigome straight. When you make a direct hit, it will almost sound like slapping a tubful of water.
If you come down at a strange angle your hammer will wobble as you strike. This will make it a little tougher to get a good pounding rhythm going, making the the pounding process take longer.
Be careful of the person who is adding water to the mochi you’re making. He or she will be constantly folding water into the mochi between your swings. You don’t want to smash their hands do you? What? You do?!? Oh my God! YOU MONSTER!!
Mochi is incredible sticky. I knew that, but I didn’t realize how much I’d be eating that day. When consuming large amounts of mochi, be sure to have plenty water and or hot tea available.
If so, was it tough? Was it fun? I’d love hear what it was like for you! Please comment below
Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.