Monday, December 29, 2008

Omochi making

I'm backing up to a few days ago to when I was invited to the nursery school yearly event of making omochi. Hmm... How to explain omochi? Simply it is just a rice cake. It is made of a different kind of rice than one normally eats for breakfast or dinner and it is extremely sticky. When it is pounded it makes a glutinous mass that is heavy and needs to be shaped into little cakes or, after it hardens, cut into small pieces. Omochi is a necessity at New Year's and occasionally at other celebrations (much like you can't have Thanksgiving without a turkey? You can't have New Year's without omochi in Japan.) When I was a child my father (American all the way!) would turn up his nose at omochi that my Japanese grandparents would eat.

"The reason Japanese only eat that stuff once a year is because it stays in your stomach all year long!"

He did not appreciate omochi.

On Monday I went to the nursery school where the principal and teachers were getting the steamed omochi rice ready to be pounded. In olden days all farm families has these huge mortor and mallet and communities would gather to pound rice and shape them into balls. Nowadays someone has invented an automated omochi pounder which looks like a mini-washing machine or maybe like a bread maker. The steamed omochi rice is thrown in and after about 10 minutes of spinning and agitating it turns to the right consistency for shaping.

So that the nursery school children would get the idea of how omochi is really made, the principal acquired a mortar and mallet and let them have a go at it. Actually this set is child size. The real ones are quite a bit larger and two people can pound at the same time. The kids took turns pounding the rice while every called out encouragement in rhythm.

"Heave-ho! Don't give up!"

As you can see, I got into the act too.

Afterwards, the teachers and I made mini rice balls and three flavors of omochi were prepared. From top to bottom, soy sauce and sea weed omochi, fermented soy bean omochi, and sweet bean paste omochi. Yum! The kids wanted seconds and thirds and fourths!

Already at home I have been given two or three bags of farm made omochi and another friend called last night to tell me to come pick up a slab that she had prepared for me. We may eat nothing else but omochi for New Year's!


R.H. said...

This is very interesting. I must go to a Japanese resturant here in town and see if they make Omochi for New Years. I wonder if they sell this special rice somewhere here? I'm learning so much about the culture of Japan. Reading your Blog is better than trying to learn from a book. Rae Ann

Fuji Mama said...

Oh how I miss omochi at New Years! YUM! I also LOVE ozoni. Eat an extra piece for me! :-)


I'm sure it s very fun for the kids! The sweet bean ones are yummy! How fun!

Connie W said...

I will have to ask my friend Tomoko if she makes this while living in the states. What an interesting process it is.

Amanda said...

I'd love to try these - and to have a go at making them - but don't know any Japanese restaurants nearby, or Japanese suppliers. There's an Asian supermarket in Brighton, so I'll have to visit there soon. Best wishes for 2009

Shasta said...

Another great tradition. Thanks for sharing it.

June said...

My daughter made the red bean omochi for us one year when she was home for the Holidays. The beans were good, but it seems like the rice just kept "growing" the more we chewed. She makes a triangular shaped rice ball that I just love. Can't remember the name. Yum!

Laurie Ann said...

Our Japanese daughters made us omochi last year and it was just something I couldn't get used to having in my mouth. I ended up giving my two balls to the dogs when they weren't watching because I just couldn't stand having it in my mouth any more! :)

meggie said...

I never tire of learning of your food & they customs of the Japanese, Tanya. We still have our preferences for things we used to have at home, so I can understand your grandparents.
Another fabulous post!
Happiest of New Years to you & Tetsu & your fur family!