‘Mochi’ Japan’s traditional rice cakes add to local culinary delights

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Zubair Qureshi

Ashida Katsunori, Director Public Affairs, Embassy of Japan on Saturday hosted ‘Mochitsuki,’ traditional Japanese rice cake making and introduced to the guests, mostly Pakistani friends a new kind of Japanese delight. Mchitsuki, or pounding rice to make mochi (rice cakes), is an important traditional event in reparation for the New Year. It’s usually performed at the end of the year, from around December 25 to 28.
Katsunori however celebrated the New Year a bit late by throwing Mochi party in mid-March. One could see Japanese cooks using sticky rice in Usu (wooden bowl) and pounding them with a kine, a heavy and wooden hammer. With every strike of the kine one could see rice coming up and then they were pounded again.
Pakistani guests took keen interest in the entire process of making and preparing the rice cakes. Some of them even ventured to participate in Mochi-making and expressed their resolve to try them at home as well. “They are so tasty, especially when served with strawberry or chocolate and I will give them to my school going kids for lunch’ said a guest.
Making mochi is simple. A special type of sticky rice that’s been soaked in water overnight and steamed is placed in an usu, a large bowl made of wood or stone. The kine is heavy, so when a family makes mochi together, the father usually does the pounding, with the mother regularly shifting the rice in the usu (with hands moistened to prevent the mochi from sticking) to ensure evenness. The mother then shapes the pounded rice into small portions with the help of the children.
After the mochi are completed, some are set aside as divine offerings. The decorative kagami mochi – two flat, round mochi placed one on top of the other, with the lower mochi being slightly larger – represents the seat of the New Year deities. Even at room temperature, mochi will keep for a fairly long time. People start eating the homemade mochi with the dawning of the New Year. They’re usually cooked over a flame and flavored with soy sauce or are placed in a soup called zoni.