A Mochi Memorial


Whenever I bite into mochi—that soft, chewy Japanese rice cake—the taste immediately transports me to one particular Saturday afternoon in Honolulu.

It was December 2008 and the family had gathered at my grandpa’s house to begin the usual New Years’ preparations—the cleaning, purging, cooking and this year, the mochi-making.

Traditionally mochi is made by pounding cooked glutinous rice into a large, sticky mass—a task that requires one sizeable sturdy bowl, two strong men with two heavy pounders, and one brave soul who flips the rice in between blows.

However, on that Saturday afternoon there was no pounding to be heard, save for the quiet rumbling of the mochi machine, a new contraption that cooked and pounded the rice automatically. I was fascinated. Think of a bread maker without the baking component—a true wonder!

The mochi machine had a stately place in the kitchen that day. When the dough was complete my uncle poured out the scalding sticky mess onto the papered kitchen table. With floured hands, my sisters and I joined my grandpa in pinching off plump mounds, forming them into small circles and filling them with an, a sugary red bean paste. Pat, turn. Pinch, turn. The smooth rice ball becomes a treat so soft it melts in the mouth when fresh.

A few weeks ago I returned to Honolulu to pay one last visit to my grandpa, a precious time before he passed. While rummaging in the pantry I unexpectedly uncovered an old but familiar friend—the mochi machine! Rusted to the counter top and comfortable in its dusty corner, the trusty green and white mochi maker was a silent memorial from the past.

It is unlikely that I’ll soon hear again the warm rain pattering against that tiled roof or smell the scent of hibiscus and plumeria lifted from the outside garden. Yet give me one taste of soft, sweet mochi and I’m transported right back to that beloved house in Honolulu.

Quick Mochi Recipe

1 cup mochiko (rice flour)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup water
Katakuriko (potato starch) or cornstarch
Optional: An (red bean paste)

Stir together rice flour, salt and sugar. Stir in 1/2 cup water to form soft dough. Cover and microwave on medium high, 10 minutes. Rest 3 minutes. Turn and cook additional 2 to 3 minutes or until done. Cut or pinch off 8 equal pieces and form into smooth round shapes. Dust with katakuriko (potato starch) or cornstarch as needed to prevent sticking. Serve rice cakes the same day while fresh, if possible.

Red Bean Variation: Pinch off walnut-size pieces of steamed mochi. Place 1 tablespoon an (red bean paste) into each circle of dough; pinch edges to seal and dust with katakuriko (potato starch).

Recipe courtesy of Cuisine: The Legacy of the Japanese in Hawaii

If you’re looking for mochi in the Sacramento area, you’ll likely enjoy the varieties at Osaka Ya and Oto’s Marketplace.

Osaka Ya
2215 10th Street
Sacramento, CA 95818

Oto’s Marketplace
4990 Freeport Blvd
Sacramento, CA 95822


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