Mochi is a traditional food popular in Japanese cuisine, made from specially treated rice. It is often presented in the form of a round cake or bun, and is traditionally exchanged at the New Year, although the popularity of the food has made it available in fresh and frozen form year-round in Japan and some other parts of the world. Many specialty stores supply mochi, and it also obtainable in major cities with a large Japanese community.
To make mochi, short grain glutinous or sticky rice is soaked overnight, cooking, and pounded into a sticky paste. The paste is molded into shapes that range from simple round buns to complex ornamental pastries, some of which are stuffed with sweet fillings like lotus root and sweet red bean paste. Mochi is often decorated with fruit or flowers, especially when it is exchanged as a gift at celebrations like birthdays and the New Year.
Fresh mochi is usually cooked and served warm with a variety of sauces. Steaming and boiling or simmering are both popular preparations in Japan, along with grilling. When baked, it can be an unusual treat; it tends to puff up in the oven, creating an interestingly textured food which readily absorbs dipping sauces. Fresh mochi often molds readily, so it should be cooked or frozen within a few days of purchase.
Mochi appears in a variety of dishes, not just in a plain presentation. Ice cream enclosed in mochi is a popular Japanese dessert treat, and it is also often used in soups. Depending on the soup, the mochi may be specially flavored and toasted, or left in plain dumpling form to cook with the soup and provide texture. In addition to being stuffed with sweet fillings, it can also be filled with boiled or pickled vegetables.
When seeking out mochi in the store, consumers should buy it fresh if possible, because it is more flavorful. It can expire, and people should avoid discolored specimens. Mochi can be very sticky, sometimes with perilous results for the diner. Inexperienced eaters may want to stick with small bites to avoid the potential choking hazard. When eaten with care, mochi can be an interesting taste of traditional Japanese food, as well as being delicious.