Monday, January 5, 2015

Making Mochi in Japan

This Christmas and New Year's, I decided to go to Japan and study meditation at the Shogan-ji Temple.  One of the things that attracted me to this place was the idea that I would get to help out cooking in the kitchen. Little did I know that Jiho-san, the monk, was an amazing cook and would teach us some great food! 

Traditionally, New Year's is a time to make mochi, a rice cake. We made three kinds. And I learned how to make it from scratch. 

We made Kagami mochi, a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. It usually consists of two round mochi, the smaller placed atop the larger, and a Japanese bitter orange with an attached leaf on top. In addition, it may have a sheet of konbu and a skewer of dried persimmons under the mochi. It sits on a stand called a sanp over a sheet called a shih beni, which is supposed to ward off fires from the house for the following years. Sheets of paper called gohei folded into lightning shapes similar to those seen on sumo wrestler's belts are also attached. 

We made O-zoni, a soup with bits of mochi in it. This is traditionally eaten at New Years and was delicious!  

We also made kusa mochi, or yomogi mochi, literally "grass mochi" - which is flavored with mugwort. Every step of this process was completely by hand! From soaking the beans and cooking them and then mashing them into balls to picking the mugwort (hahagohusa) and steaming them to soaking the rice, steaming it and pounding it into sticky mochi. 

Some sake for cooking or drinking later...

Pounding the mochi is a man's job! 

Jiho-san's brother who I dubbed the "MOCHI MASTER" 

The women shape and flavor the mochi

The Usu - a traditional mortar

Smashing the mugwort into the mochi paste

As Gaijin, we straddled the men and the women's roles. 

Ready to take out to the temple soon!

Couldn't resists sampling! 

A little fresh yellow-tail sashimi straight form the ocean for lunch! 

Steamed mugwort for the Kusa Mochi

Shaped black bean balls for the kusa mochi

Steaming the sticky rice.

Making the kaso mochi!

The results of our hard labor. 

Jiho-san approves!

Mochi Soup or Ozoni.

Jiho-san and his mother supervising the sashimi.