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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

Mochi - Japanese Rice Cakes
By:Josh Shulman

Japanese food is a combination of art and taste. Its cuisine has a distinct flavor and appearance. Lot of importance is given to the aesthetic and pleasing presentation of the food and you can get a feel of the season and the mood of the chef too. It is even believed that the food possesses a soul.

"Mochi" is a Japanese rice cake made by pounding steamed glutinous rice (also known as pearl rice, sticky rice or botan rice) with wooden mortars and pestles, then cut into blocks or molds. The sticky quality of the rice allows it to harden quickly. The flattened and cut pieces are cast into rectangular or round shapes and are readily available in the market. The hardened rice cakes can be then boiled, fried or grilled, as they soften back into sticky substance with a crispy crust. They solidify quickly so they are to be eaten while hot (usually with some soy sauce), but make sure to pace yourself as there is a grave danger of choking. Yes, choking. Good food comes with a price.

Mochi is used in traditional celebrations as well in Japan. It is used as an ingredient for a soup called "Zoni" eaten on Japanese New Year's Day, and even to decorate Japanese homes (not the soup, the Mochi). During the spring and autumn equinoxes, when the day and night are at equal length, sweet Mochi rice balls are cooked and relished while gazing up at the moon, imagining rabbits that are said, according to folklore, to be pounding Mochi rice.

These rice cakes are used in various recipes, but the best by far is grilling small pieces that are wrapped in bacon. Ask for "Mochi-Bacon" at Yakitori restaurants or Japanese Izakaya pubs. You simply cannot go wrong with bacon...and mochi.

Josh Shulman, Author of All-You-Can Japan [ http://www.smartjapantravel.wordpress.com ]

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