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Sweet Mochi

One of the blessings of Hawaii is the cornucopia of foods from around the Pacific available. Traditional foods from all over the world make up our everyday choices. A common ingredient uniting many of these is rice. More than a staple, it is a key component of Japanese mochi, made during the mochitsuki ceremony.

This time-honored tradition dates back to the late 700’s, and mochi has been used as an offering in religious ceremonies for centuries. Farmers are said to eat mochi to keep up their stamina in cold weather. Long ago, samurai would pound mochi and carry it into battle because it was easy to prepare and carry.

mochi making

Making Mochi

Mochi is a rice cake that is soft and sweet like candy. Rice is soaked overnight and steamed before being placed in a large stone or wooden bowl (usu) and pounded with a heavy wooden mallet (kine, or kee-nay) until the consistency is soft and uniform. It is then divided into small portions and shaped by hand into balls or cakes. Dieters will want to note that a small cake of mochi has the same calorie content as a bowl of rice.

Many Varieties!

There are literally hundreds of varieties of mochi. It is most commonly a sweet confection, but can also be eaten with savory soups and stews. It can be toasted, or topped with fruit, soy sauce, or any number of sweet or savory sauces. Mochi ice cream is also quite popular, and can be made into numerous flavors. A small scoop of ice cream (flavor of your choice!) is wrapped in mochi and chilled for a sweet, cold treat.


Mochi in Hawaii

Mochi was brought to Hawaii by Japanese plantation workers in the mid-1800’s. To ring in the New Year, family and friends come together for the mochitsuki ceremony, pounding mochi to bring peace, prosperity, good health, and happiness. One person pounds the mochi while another kneads it in a complex and coordinated movement. Thousands of Japanese families in Hawaii (and many non-Japanese families) participate in mochitsuki each year.

Finding Mochi

Handmade mochi can be found on all islands, even at some bakeries established during the plantation days. There are dozens of mochi shops, each with their own unique recipes and preparations. Interested in a taste? Grab a bite from the following stores:

• Nisshodo Candy Store in Kalihi is among the oldest, opened in the 1920’s.
• Moki’s Mochi on Maui has become popular for its handmade, gourmet variations of mochi, including Guava Chiffon and Strawberry Cheesecake.
• Bubbie’s Ice Cream on Kauai makes more than a dozen varieties of mochi ice cream, including Li Hing Mango and Lychee.
• Two Ladies Kitchen on the Big Island has become well known for its colorful selection of handmade mochi, with Strawberry Mochi being the most famous.