Rice cake “isobe” roll お餅の磯辺巻き

japanese cake

Mochi” 餅 is steamed glutenous rice pounded into paste which is shaped into discs with one convexed side (“maru-mochi” 丸餅) or rolled out (“noshi-mochi” 伸し餅) and cut into small rectangles (“kiri-mochi” 切り餅). Instead of using a traditional wooden mallet or “kine” 杵 and mortar or “usu” 臼, nowadays, mochi can be made at home using a smal mochi making machine and, apparently, mochi can be made using a Kitchen-Aid mixer with a dough hook. The easiest way, however, is to buy packaged commercially produced mochi at a Japanese grocery store which is the route we usually take.

Especially If mochi is made at home, you could enjoy it while it is still warm and soft, however, more commonly, it is allowed to harden. Hardened mochi cakes can last at least a few weeks or longer and easily can be transformed back into a soft and edible state by boiling or grilling. After all, it does have its origins as a preserved food or emergency ration. Although it is eaten year around and many types of Japanese crackers are also made from mochi, it is a traditional New Year food (so that house wives do not have to cook rice for at least the first 3 days of New Year). I have posted mochi in New Year soup called “Zouni” 雑煮 and in a deep fried tofu pouch for “oden” おでん called “mochi kinchaku” 餅巾着 or “mochi-kin” for short.

One of the simplest and quickest ways to prepare mochi, however, is this dish called “Isobemaki”. “Isobe” means “seashore” and “maki” means “wrap” or “roll”, since it is wrapped in dried nori sea weed. We had this “isobemaki” 磯辺巻き one evening (one each) as an ending dish or “shime” dish. The taste brought me back to my childhood. Most of the Japanese families used to eat mochi more in quantity, in frequency, and for a longer period in New Year. When I was a kid, we used to eat mochi for breakfast and lunch at least in the first 3 days of New Year. We used to eat “isobemaki” mochi as lunch.

We bought a package of “kiri-mochi” for the past New Year. This is individually sealed in a plastic wrap and lasts for long time in the refrigerator. So one night, I decided to make this dish. It is not even a recipe but here it is.

Toasting mochi: Traditionally, mochi is grilled on a charcoal braiser but, in modern days, a toaster oven is the best choice. It tends to become very sticky so I used a small removable metal grate which prevents the mochi from sticking to the grate of the toaster oven. The small grate can be easily cleaned by soaking in water first.  I toasted the mochi like a piece of bread but I kept an eye on it closely. When it started puffing up I stopped cooking and took it out.

Sauce: This is sometimes called “sato(u)jouyu” 砂糖醤油 and can be very easily made. It is a mixture of sugar and soy sauce. The ratio is up to your taste but I use 1:1 rato. I microwave it briefly (a few seconds) so that sugar melts completely.

After I coated all sides of the cooked mochi, I wrapped it with a rectagular portion of dried nori sheet. If you hold the nori sheet on the mochi for a few seonds with chopsticks, it will stick to mochi like you see above. As you eat, you could dip it in the sauce if you like.

My wife told me that this is the very first Japanese food she ever ate. While at college she shared a dormitory house with a girl who grew up in Japan. Her family sent her a “CARE” package for New Year which included “mochi” and nori to wrap it in. My wife tasted it and immediately liked it. In her enthusiasm to share her new discovery she raced to take a piece to another friend who scowled at it critically and said, “wait, take the paper off first,” referring to the nori. Every time I serve this dish my wife nostalgically laughs about that comment. In any case, this is not a bad ending for the evening of an Izakaya feast, although I do not know any Izakaya which would serve a mochi dish like this.

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