Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sticking Together in the New Year with Komochi

Growing up in Honolulu, New Year was an extremely festive and busy time for all my Japanese-American friends. The Japanese celebrate New Year on Jan. 1 unlike most Asian cultures, which follow the lunar calendar. Since Japanese-Americans made up close to a third of the population in Hawaii, the New Year always brought TV news stories about the gold-like prices for tuna (raw fish is popularly served, as you might guess, at new year's parties) and the ritual pounding of mochi on New Year's Day.

Mochi, or komochi, is made of rice flour (sold under the brand Mochiko). It's sticky and soft after steamed into cake patties. Something similar is found in other Asian cultures. In the Chinese culture, a similar sticky rice cake is made for the new year, called lien gou.

So this morning I headed off to Japantown in San Francisco to see what the New Year preparations were like here and to also go hunting for mochi. My first stop was to Benkyodo, one of the oldest businesses in Japantown (it opened its doors in 1906). Benkyodo is known for its manju, which is mochi cakes made with a bean paste filling. But around the new year, they're busy making kagami mochi or okasane, which is the new year's mochi cake offering to the gods (pictured above in their counter). I couldn't buy any because they were all reserved for customers who had pre-ordered. If you want to pre-order, it's too late. Last day to pre-order for the New Year was Dec. 24. Yikes, poor planning on my part. (BTW, they're also not making manju while they're so busy making okasane. The manju returns on Jan. 4.)

If you want something ornamental and not necessarily freshly made, you can buy one of these imported Japanese new year mochi cakes at Nijiya Market at Post and Webster. It even comes with a plastic orange to symbolize the coming of spring, or plastic spring.

Over at the tiny Uoki Sakai Fish Market on Post Street, I found more user-friendly komochi made fresh by Benkyodo. So these tiny rice cakes or komochi are eaten in the new year in a soup known as Ozoni. Sticky rice cakes are popular in Asian cultures for the new year because it symbolizes how the family sticks together just like the sticky rice, and it's sweet so you know you'll have a sweet year ahead!

Benkyodo, 1747 Buchanan St., San Francisco. PH: 415.922.1244
Nijiya Market, 1737 Post St., San Francisco. PH: 415.563.1901
Uoki Sakai Fish Market, 1656 Post St., San Francisco. PH: 415.921.0515

1 comment:

agent713 said...

I love the symbology of sticky rice! That is so cool :)