Mochi: Japan’s Dangerously Delicious New Year’s Treat

  • TRADITIONAL
  • CULTURE
  • Unless you actually live here, you may not have encountered the staple Japanese New Year’s dish – Mochi! Subsequently, you may also not know that this food is not only delicious but occasionally deadly (but not as much as Fugu)! Let’s explore this wonderfully dangerous dish.

    What is it?

    Mochi is pounded rice cakes made from a special kind of sticky rice – glutinous rice. There are many traditional mochi-making ceremonies and events at the end of each year, called Mochitsuki. You can read more about that here – try to experience it if you can.

    You can buy mochi all year round at supermarkets or other food shops, usually near the rice. You can also buy handmade mochi at many supermarkets or markets as the holidays draw near.

    If you are feeling especially adventures, you can buy a mochi machine, and make them at home, using freshly cooked mochi rice of course.

    How to Eat

    The standard way of eating mochi is to grill them over the fire or in a toaster oven slowly. They heat up, start to bubble slowly in places, and end up with delicious slightly browned sections.

    You can also eat mochi in the form of mochi ice cream, wagashi (Japanese sweets), and in other dishes such as sweet azuki bean soup (zenzai), or another popular New Year’s soup with vegetables called ozoni.

    Ozoni is far superior to all other soups in my opinion, delicious, healthy, and cleans out your insides. Gotta love fiber!

    Variations

    The shapes vary depending on the area, and usually come in a round (marumochi) or rectangular (kakumochi) shape.

    Flavours vary as do eating methods. Some people cover them in kinako powder, stuff them with pickled plums or natto, some people even put cheese in the middle.

    The standard method is grilling them, wrapping them in seaweed, and dipping them in soy sauce, or soy sauce with sugar in it. I love the sugar soy sauce option. Last year, I ate 2 kgs of these bad boys and had no regrets at all.

    Why the Deadly Carnage?

    Well, mochi are chewy and sticky. Therefore, unless you chew them well, and swallow them completely, they can get stuck in your throat causing you to choke. The elderly and very young are especially vulnerable to choking. Usually, there are warnings against eating mochi alone, especially for the elderly.

    A particularly sad case occurred a few years ago when a family forbade an elderly man from enjoying the delightful treat, due to the danger. He crept back downstairs late at night to curb his craving and succumbed to the sticky demon.

    Although many would consider me sadistic, my friends and I have a bet each year, how many innocent people will fall victim to mochi over the holidays. It varies by year but check out the statistics below, this year my bet is 7. Horrid, I know.

    2015 – 9 deaths, 13 serious hospitalisations
    2014 – 4 deaths, 10 serious hospitalisations

    So, if you happen to be in Japan over the holidays, or live here and want to give mochi a try, be sure to chew it well. Chew, and chew, and chew, and then swallow. You don’t want to become another statistic, but you also don’t want to miss out on this delicious delight.