One of the cool things we got to do while Justin was here in November was partake in an Omochi Making Party at one of my Elementary schools. Omochi, pounded down sweet rice cakes, can be eaten in a variety of ways, and in one day, I probably consumed enough gluten to last me a month. In today’s modern Japan, omochi can be made conveniently by a machine, similar to a bread machine, which will cook the rice and then pound it out itself. Never even have to sully your fingers with the messy affair. In old Japan, though, omochi was made by physically pounding out the cooked rice in a huge wooden mortar, called an usu, with a large mallet, a kine. One person wields the usu while another tends to the rice, wetting it with cold water so it doesn’t stick, and flipping it around for an even consistency. Which is exactly what we did.
Once pounded out into a huge sticky ball, omochi is typically made into smaller, rounded, sticky balls. These can be added or topped with a whole slew of goodies. At this party, we began our Omochi Feast with Ozoni soup, a clear dashi-based soup with carrots, shiitake mushrooms, burdock root and ofcourse, delicious melted mochi. Ozoni soup is typically associated with the New Year, but can also be eaten at other times of the year. The 5th and 6th grade students also set up various “stations” for all the other omochi preparations.
One station consisted of mochi brushed with a soy-sauce and sugar mixture, and wrapped with nori, seaweed. Another station offered mochi in oshiruko, an azuki bean soup, as well as mochi stuffed with anko, azuki paste. Yet another station slung out mochi covered in kinako, a sweet/salty soybean flour, and the last station had mochi covered in a sweet and savory, caramel-colored soy-based sauce. (Notice any trends? How about soy and rice?) I left the party with a full belly and tired arms.