Mochi is a traditional food for the Japanese New Year and is commonly sold and eaten during that time. To prepare, polished glutinous rice is soaked overnight and cooked. The cooked rice is pounded with wooden mallets (Kine) in a traditional mortar (Usu). Two people will alternate the work, one pounding and the other turning and wetting the Mochi. They must keep a steady rhythm or they may accidentally injure one another with the heavy kine. The sticky mass is then formed into various shapes (usually a sphere or cube).
Mochi can also be prepared from a flour of sweet rice (Mochi ko). The flour is mixed with water to a sticky opaque white mass that is cooked on the stovetop or in the microwave until it becomes elastic and slightly transparent.
Many types of traditional Wagashi (Japanese traditional sweets) are made with Mochi. For example, Daifuku is a soft round Mochi stuffed with sweet filling, such as sweetened red bean paste (An) or white bean paste (Shiro-An).
Oshiruko or Zenzai is a sweet Azuki bean soup with pieces of Mochi. In winter, Japanese people often eat it to warm themselves.
Chikara Udon (meaning “power Udon”) is a dish consisting of Udon noodles in soup topped with toasted Mochi.
Zoni is a soup containing rice cakes. Zoni is also eaten on New Year’s Day. In addition to Mochi, Zoni contains vegetables like taro, carrot, honewort and red and white colored Kamaboko.
Kinako Mochi is a Mochi dish that is traditionally made on New Year’s Day for luck. This style of Mochi preparation includes roasting the Mochi over a fire or stove, then dipping it into water, finally coating with sugar and Kinako (soy flour).
Sembei (rice crackers) are usually cooked by being baked or grilled, traditionally over charcoal. While being prepared they may be brushed with a flavoring sauce, often one made of soy sauce and mirin. They may then be wrapped with a layer of nori. Alternatively they may be flavored with salt or “salad” flavoring, among others.
Arare is a type of bite-sized Japanese cracker made from glutinous rice and flavored with soy sauce. The size and shapes are what distinguish arare from senbei. The name is chosen to evoke snow pellets – smaller arare are similar in size and shape to snow pellets, though others can vary significantly in size, flavor and shape. Arare is also called kakimochi or mochi crunch in Hawaii where it was introduced in the 1900s.
You can find packed dried mochi cut into small pieces of square shape in any supermarket in Japan all year around. It will be ready to eat to put after about 10~15 minutes toasted in the oven at home.
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