The fifth of May is well known in America as Cinco de Mayo, which is sometimes also referred to as Cinco de Drinko.
But for Japanese families, May 5th is Boys’ Day, also known as Children’s Day. The celebration has transformed over time to celebrate not only boys but all children on this day. Girls’ Day is celebrated on March 3rd, also known as Dolls’ Day.
According to Chinese legend, it is said that carp (koi in Japanese) that swim through the Dragon Gate rapids in the Yellow River turn into dragons. (For more, read The Animal in Far Eastern Art by T. Volker (1950).)
On Boys’ Day, families in Japan proudly display carp windsocks affixed to a pole, one for each parent and one for each child. When the wind catches the carp it appears as though the fish are swimming.
A traditional celebration of Boys’ Day includes the eating of mochi which has gained more popularity in the US over the past decade. For those unfamiliar with mochi, it is sweet rice that has been cooked in water, pounded into a thick, sticky paste and then formed into disks. On it’s own it can be kind of bland. You might say it is an acquired taste. I like to consume it in a brothy shoyu soup with shrimp and spinach. Just thinking of it makes my mouth water.
The process of making mochi is pretty easy now since we have mochi making machines (pictured above) that cook the rice and beat or “pound” the rice to the correct consistency. All you have to do is soak the rice in water overnight. Watching the mochi spinning, round and round is mesmerizing, as you can see in the video below.
The only difficult part is once it is done, it is an extremely hot (like molten lava hot) mound of rice paste. It can be difficult to handle if you have sensitive hands, but the end product is totally worth it.
The mochi needs to be portioned out into smaller servings before it has cooled and hardened too much. This is the time to put sweet red bean paste in the center of your mochi if you enjoy daifuku.
You can read more about how to make mochi with a mochi maker with step by step instructions at Of Rice and Ramen.
If your mouth is watering too, here’s a great recipe for Mochi Ice Cream from Just One Cookbook. The recipe uses Mochiko, sweet rice flour, which is a much quicker method than using a mochi maker.