- Food and Cooking
How to Make Mochi
The Women and Girls Put Finishing Touches on Mochi
Before Christmas Day, 2009, I had never heard of mochi.
When Sandy, a Japanese friend, invited my husband and me to join a family gathering to make rice cakes on Christmas morning, I had no inkling of what they were or how they were made. Little dId I realize I was about to witness a Japanese tradition that appears to be dying out as families move from farms to cities in Japan, as well as in the United States. Few Japanese-American families anymore appear to be as committed to keeping the tradition of making mochi from scratch, as Sandy's family is. I only knew this was the only chance I would have to see Sandy for a while, since we live about 200 miles apart and Kosta and I were only in the area for a couple of days. I only knew this might be my last chance to see Sandy alive again.
You might be wondering why Sandy's family would engage in what you will see can be a strenuous and time-consuming activity for several hours on Christmas Day. Christmas Day is seven days before New Year's Day, and among the Japanese, New Year's Day is a more important celebration than Christmas. The mochi (rice cakes) last about seven days if frozen after they are made. So they are made and then frozen for use on New Year's Day on Christmas --a day when almost no one has to work. About 50 (counting children) of Sandy's extended family members and friends were assembled and involved when we arrived.
I took all pictures used in this hub. They are copyrighted, 2009, and all rights are reserved.
In Memory of Sandy Mukae, to whom this hub is dedicated
I want to dedicate this hub to my friend Sandy Mukae, without whom it never would have been written. It was her invitation to visit her and her family on this special occasion that introduced me to mochi and the traditional way of making it.
Sandy was my faithful friend for over 40 years. I have watched her family grow up. I played with her children when they were toddlers. Her children entertained my children when we visited her almost 20 years ago. And Sandy was there when we later buried our children-- first Jason in 1991 and Sarah in 2009.
Sandy knew how to listen and pray, and act in the best interests of her many friends. I did not hesitate to confide in her things I would not have to anyone else because I knew she was trustworthy. She has been with me through my darkest valleys and I know she has walked with others through theirs. She would never seek attention for herself, but as a wife, mother, nurse, and friend she has let Jesus use her hands, feet and heart to look to the interests of others.
Sandy waged a fierce fight for life against a vicious enemy -- cancer -- for several years. She tried every possible treatment for it and exhausted them all. She hoped for a new trial to open up that might keep her fighting options open. She has shown great courage in fighting this battle and has been an inspiration to all who knew her.
Sandy passed peacefully into Heaven on November 30, 2010, at her home with her family present. She made the decision shortly before that to put herself under Hospice care, and we have known that she would be leaving us soon. We are glad that she is now free of pain and getting to know her Lord face to face, but those of us who are left will be missing her greatly. You can see Sandy, almost 11 months earlier than the day she left us at the extreme right of the picture in her red shirt. Her husband is squatting in the very front. Her son and his wife are back, slightly behind her, and her grandchildren are the stair-steps between them. That's their daughter in the red and white striped shirt. Keep them all in your prayers as they miss Sandy each year when they gather again, and, individually, in their hearts, day by day. Everyone in this picture will be missing Sandy, as will I and her friends who were not at this event.
Making mochi for 50 is a big project. - Though its orderly, several things can be going on at once.
Making Mochi This Way Requires Lot of Space and People
One of the reasons many families don't make mochi from scratch anymore is because it requires a lot of people to do the work and a lot of space. It's not a kitchen activity. You could not do this in a city apartment. It also requires strong men. You will notice that a lot of men are involved in this activity. The women do the less strenuous jobs, including putting on the finishing touches. When we first walked into the garage, the first thing we noticed was a large table covered with flour, with women and girls on all sides of it. They were working with a white substance that looked somewhat like white clay.
As we began to look around and ask questions, we were directed to different activity centers so that we could observe the order in which things happened. I will show you below the points of interest and the order of activities.
The first stop was the steamer just outside the garage in the back yard. - This where the rice was cooked to make the mochi.
The men seemed to be in charge of this operation. When the cooking time was nearing completion, the men would taste small portions to see if it was just right before they removed the rice from the steamer for the next step. This whole operation of making mochi reminded me of how we make zjito from wheat for our Slava celebration. We first cook the wheat grains until they are just right, and we taste bits of it toward the end to test whether it is done. Of course, making zjito does not require as much physical effort or as many people as making mochi, but the whole process takes longer because of the drying time.
Next we went back in the garage to see the cooked rice ground for the mochi. - I'm not sure, but they appeared to be using a sausage grinder.
In the picture you see the hopper at the top where the rice from the steamer outside had just been dumped. the paddle was used to the rice into the grinding part of the machine. The ground rice comes out the end into the bowl. The men also handled this part.
When we make zjito, we use a smaller meat grinder to grind a pound of wheat by hand. It comes out looking more like hamburger than the thick rope of dough for the mochi.
Here are some varied views of the grinding operation - You can see that the men work together on this.Click thumbnail to view full-size
What is your mochi experience?
If more than one answer is true for you, pick the one nearest the bottom of the list
Before starting to read his lens, had you ever heard of mochi?
To Help You Understand the Photos Below
1. There was not enough space in the captions for me to put all the information you might to understand what you are seeing if you aren't Japanese or if you have never seen mochi made this way. The numbers in the descriptions below apply to the numbers of the photos.First, one needs the right equipment. The big bowl-like item is usually made of wood. It's called an usu. The dough is put into the usu after it has been ground. The gloves are worn by the person in the chair who moves the dough, as is the apron hanging down. The two mallets are called kine. They are the largest I've ever seen. They are used to pound the dough that is in the usu. There is a story behind this usu, but I will tell it further down.* Be sure to click on the other pictures in order to read the captions so you'll know what is going on.
2.The person who sits in the chair turns the dough after it is pounded every time. It's a rhythm -- sort of like kneading bread dough, but on a much larger scale. A strong man hits the dough with the kine. The person in the chair turns the dough. Then the kine pounds it again. This repeats until it's ready. The person in the chair and anyone within a few feet of the usu can expect to get splashed when the kine connects with the dough. Thus the apron. She is wearing the gloves because the dough is very sticky. Although a woman occupies the chair now, i also saw a man occupy it. Everyone needs a break. People took turns turning and pounding.
3.This is where the kine meets the dough.
4. This is an overview of the activity allows you to see the scene as I did. A man is turning the dough here. The kine is about to come down. There's probably more rice cooking outside, and more rice being ground where you can't see it. The women in back are waiting for the dough so they can finish shaping the mochi and filling them.
5. How do you suppose they decide who gets to sit in the chair during the pounding?
*This usu was made in America before WWII, molded in a barrel. It was made of cement instead of the traditional wood. It was very heavy. When the owners in Sandy's extended family had to leave their farm for relocation during the war, the usu was left behind. A neighbor began to use it as a planter. When the family returned and saw it in the neighbor's yard, they claimed ownership, and the neighbors gave it back. Now it's back to its traditional use again.
This step in making mochi is exciting! - Pounding the rice doughClick thumbnail to view full-size
Now the mochi is ready for the table where it will be finished. - The women and girls around the table represent many nuclear families.
Why Do They Make Mochi This Way?
I was told that one reason this family keeps the tradition of making mochi alive is that it brings the extended family together every year for a purpose. As they work together, they have a shared experience, talk, and keep in touch. In this picture, the dough has just come out of the usu and onto the table. The women will take it from here.
Finishing the Mochi: More about the photos below.
All the information that pertains to the photos below could not fit in the space I had to write it in. The numbers below correspond to the numbers of the photos that need the rest of their information.
1. The table is first covered with plastic and then the surface is covered with glutinous rice flour. The dough is very sticky and one doesn't want it to stick to the table. I make a bread dough that is very sticky and I have to keep coating the surface of the table with more and more flour as I knead for the same reason.
8. Some of the mochi was being sampled as it was being made. They were dipping it in a brown sauce made of one part sugar to two parts soy sauce before eating it. I tried it that way, too.
10. It appeared people were eating in shifts, as some were still working when we ate. The food looked delicious, but since we were supposed to eat Christmas dinner in an hour at my brother's house, I only ate salad and one bite of pork. The prospect of a full turkey dinner in an hour didn't inhibit Kosta's participation in this buffet.
Here's how the mochi is finished. - Each family makes its own supply.Click thumbnail to view full-size
There are easier ways to get mochi for New Year's
It can be made from package mixes and cooked in the microwave or bought already prepared. Very few are left who continue to make it this way. These links show you some of the other mochi recipes and ways to use mochi.
How to Make Mochi in 30 Minutes or Less
This mochi is a bit fancier with a wider variety of fillings. It also uses some wheat flour to keep the mochi soft.
Try This More Modern Way if Time is Short
Pounding the Mochi - Contrast this with the easier way in the module above this.
The family I observed had only one person pounding at a time. The people in the video below appear to be making this at a senior residence. Unless you are able to understand Japanese, you probably won't understand the audio, but I want you to see the action. How I wish I'd been able to get a video of what I saw. I was just lucky I had brought my camera.
This man explained the traditions to me.
His name is Soya Tayui. He answered many of my questions about how and why things were done and what they were called. He pointed out that mochi is a high energy food which runners used before marathons to sustain them. He also told me about the choking hazard. He is sampling some mochi here. He likes the fact that the tradition helps bring the family together. Traditions do help bind families together, and for that reason they are important in every culture.
Is there value in making mochi from scratch?
Or is it just too much trouble? Why would busy families want to keep doing things the hard way when mochi can be made easily from packages or even picked up already made? I hope you will state your opinion below. You do not have to be a member of Squidoo to participate.
Do you believe it's still worth while to make mochi from scratch?
I enjoyed witnessing it, learning about it, and even tasting it. What do you think? I hope you will go back up and share you opinions about the value of this tradition in our duel module. If you don't have an opinion on that but would like to share your own experiences with mochi or your family's traditions, or just say you were here, the place to do it is below.