It's Hammer Time
December in Japan means much more than just overpriced kitchy Christmas themes at the hotel dining room, skanky hostesses standing on streetcorners in skimpy Santa dresses and drunken salarymen puking and passing out in the train stations after the end-of-the-year bonus party. December is time to make every Japanese's favorite traditional New Year's treat -- mochi.
First, you need a bunch of old people. This is vital as no one under the age of 60 is likely to have the patience to get up at five in the morning to start cooking 100 kilos of rice over a wood fire. Besides, none of us young whippersnappers know how to do it right.
After the rice is cooked, huge pots of it are tossed into a large wooden mortar and then the squashing commences. This is where us energetic young fellas come in. It takes three men to work the rice with large wooden mallets, typically weighing about three or four kilos. You don't hammer the soft rice, you just sort of knead it down into a sticky mess through direct pressure, occasionally dipping the mallet in water so it doesn't get trapped in the rice blob.
Once the rice is a solid mass, it's Japanese John Henry time! A solid wooden mallet swung with enough force for about ten minutes turns the sticky rice blob into a gooey mass that looks like bread dough that has already risen. And no, I am not trying to hit the nice lady on the head with a mallet. She turns the blob between strokes while I pound it into its component atoms.
My stroke, vigour and my ability not to wallop oba-chan on the hand or noggin, despite the
old guys pouring several beers into my before noon early hour, earned me several more beers and shot of sake from the peanut gallerythe respect of the elders in my community
Ta-da, the sticky, gooey mess whose taste means New Year's is just around the corner. Interestingly, a number of old people choke to death on mochi every year at New Year's and the reccommended precaution is to keep your vaccuum cleaner handy. If Grandma starts to choke, jam the hose down her throat and switch on the machine. Happy New Year!
"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"
Monday, December 03, 2007
It's Hammer Time