Have you tried mochi before? Have you eaten mochi outside of a New Year celebration? Have you had JUST mochi as a main meal? Have you tried it with a dried shrimp topping? You can experience all this and more in Ichinoseki. With 300 different flavors of mochi and a history that stems back to the Edo period, you are sure to find the mochi for you!
Ichinoseki and Mochi Mochi is a significant part of Japanese cuisine and garnered further attention from the world when Japanese cuisine was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Although mochi is eaten mostly during New Year's celebrations, Ichinoseki and Hiraizumi have deep-rooted mochi eating traditions that go far beyond New Year's and is pounded and eaten on many ceremonial occasions including marriages, funerals, coming of age and festivals. It's no wonder that this region consumes the most mochi in all of Japan.
Mochi began to be consumed in this region around 400 years ago during the Edo era. At the order of the lord of the Date clan who governed the region, it was customary to offer mochi to the gods on the 1st and 15th of every month and pray for peace. However, the poor farmers were unable to eat proper mochi, and were eating a lower grade type called 'Shiina mochi' which is a mixture of rice scraps and unsavory grain. The origin of the flourishing mochi culture came as a result of the efforts of those farmers trying to figure out how to eat shiina mochi in more palatable ways. There are now around 300 variations, from traditional to contemporary mochi recipes.
The ritual of 'mochi honzen' is a formal full-course meal of mochi which is incredibly profound. For something that looks so simple, there is a meaningful reason to each part of the meal. Restaurants in Ichinoseki have focused on preserving and relaying the tradition of mochi cuisine and offer chances to experience a full-course meal of mochi.
Ichinoseki has numerous events related to mochi. Some of the larger ones include the 'Mochi Festival' where you can try dozens of different types of mochi, ‘Japan’s no.1 Mochi Pounding Contest’ in which participating teams are judged on mochitsuki performance, the taste and arrangement of mochi and lastly, the ‘Wanko Mochi Tournament’, where contestants compete to eat as many bite-sized mochi servings as they can within 5 minutes.
My experience eating an Ichinoseki Mochi meal Even though I love mochi, I had never once thought of having it as a main meal, but I thought I'd give it a shot since it's a major part of the culture here. When nine different flavors of mochi appeared before me (as well as soups, fish, chicken) I was certain there was no way that I could finish it all. I usually get full after two mochi. I was pleasantly surprised at the delicacy of each mochi serving that I tried at Sekinoichi's Kuramoto Restaurant. From sweet to salty - creamy to dry toppings, every mochi was a new discovery! The mochi was smooth and rather light. Although I struggled a little toward the end, I managed to finish off all my food. And, I also enjoyed every flavor! My top three were zunda (edamame paste), numaebi (the tiny dried shrimp) and anko (red bean paste).
It is said that on an annual calendar there are 60 opportunities to eat mochi, and even as a mochi fan, I doubt my body would be able to cope with so many calories - but I do recommend that you try this cuisine at least once in your life.
Some places you can try mochi cuisine:
Michi-no-eki Gembikei - Pettankun: http://www.ichitabi.jp/gourmet/data.php?no=29
*This article is a tie up with the Kitakami Times