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Dec 5, 2012 02:32 PM

Help identifying / naming a food product we encountered in Japan

In a couple of the ryokan we visited during our October trip to Japan, we enjoyed the elaborate kaiseki ryori meals I'd been longing to try. We did fairly well on writing notes on much of what we were served, but occasionally managed to miss.

One product I've been trying to remember more about was a dense pale savoury slab, I think made from rice flour, which had teeny tiny whole baby potatoes embedded in it, which made for beautiful patterns, as this stuff was served sliced. It didn't have a particularly strong flavour.

The clearest photos I have are actually from a food market, not the kaiseki meals themselves, both from Takayama.

Can anyone help?

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    1. re: Kavey

      looks like it is mochi - the first picture mame mochi, the second picture an assortment pack of mochi

      1. re: killersmile

        Is there anything more specific?

        I think mochi describes all the various products made of rice flour, and this one was very different from the sweet mochi dumplings that I'm more familiar with.

        Thank you.

        1. re: Kavey

          I don't know if what you saw/had was mochi, but mochi doesn't have to be sweet. It can be in savory dishes as well--the most famous example being ozoni, the traditional New Year's soup.

          1. re: Kavey

            Mochi itself is not sweet unless you mix in sugar etc. when making it.

            Your first photo shows "Mame mochi", which is made with whole soy beans mixed into the mochi, often black soy beans.

            Your second photo appears to show a couple different varieties of mame mochi sold together in one pack.

            The mochi on the right hand side of your second photo are "Egoma mochi", and likely have some shiso leaves mixed in.

            1. re: Hiyodori

              If your request is about the mochi in the photos, and eaten as cake..these are 'kinutsuki mochi(=杵つき餅), and correspond to a pound of steamed rice, compacted with a mallet. Here the link and the list of the different types proposed
               - kusamochi, mochi flavored with mugwort(I think)
              - mamemochi, mochi with soya bean, pea or bean
              - shiromochi, simple mochi   
              - genmaimochi, mochi with semi refined rice
              - awamochi, millet mochi
              - seven sorts, mochi blend with black soybean, awamochi, wheat, brown rice, sesame, some herb(tear grass?), 

        2. re: Kavey

          The second pic is one of tofu( soy )and sesame seed products.

          1. re: nancydoell

            Not sure where you're seeing "tofu" (豆腐) in that pic. The signs say "mochi" (餅).

            1. re: nancydoell

              Also, not sure where you see sesame seed either. Egoma, if that's what you are assuming is sesame is not. It is like shiso.

          2. Thank you so much, everyone, this is so helpful!

            The one we ate as part of meals resembled most closely the blocks in the first photograph, with the exact same circles of embedded vegetables.

            Do you think I'm right that they are baby potatoes or could they be beans or something else? or perhaps it's not possible to tell just from such a picture?

            2 Replies
            1. re: Kavey

              The baby potatoes you describe might be what are called mukago (むかご), which are little buds that grow on wild yamaimo (mountain yam/potato) plants. I think it was described to me once as the seedling of the yamaimo plant. It's quite possible they were mixed into mochi. You can see what they look like and see how they grow on this google image page:

              They are very seasonal, and I think they are mainly harvested from the wild. Which makes them a seasonal specialty in certain regions of Japan. I received a handful of them earlier this year (late summer/early autumn?) and did the typical thing and cooked them with rice. They are like little beans with the taste and texture of potatoes.

              1. re: E Eto

                Aah, so it could be that one of the ones we were served was made with these, Thanks E Eto.

                We visited in October, so the right season, it seems.

                Thanks so much!

            2. By the way, if the one in the first photo is mame mochi, that means it has black beans in it, not baby potatoes, is this right?
              Makes me wonder if I've misremembered being told it was made from rice flour and potatoes, though I'd never come across such small potatoes before, so seems odd for me to imagine it.
              Do you think there is a similar one with baby potatoes, it looked identical to this.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Kavey

                You may have heard correctly. "Imo-mochi", made with "sato-imo" potatoes and regular rice, is made in a number of different part of Japan, including Gifu, but usually doesn't resemble the mochi in your photos.

                E Eto may be right too, regular mochi made with "mukago", though I've only ever seen them mixed in with rice, not in a mochi rice cake.

                It may help to try a google image search for "mukago" and "imomochi".

                Of course the best way to find out what you ate is to make a return visit next year around the same time!

                1. re: Hiyodori

                  I would love to do that, can't even tell you how much!
                  I was talking last night with a fellow Japan lover, he's visited many times, and we were both feeling a longing to go back because of our discussion.
                  I explained to him that I felt genuinely bereft for a good week when I got home. I didn't want to leave and when I get home I was longing to go back.

              2. This first pic says tells me it's a totally soy product.

                1 Reply
                1. re: nancydoell

                  While the beans in the first product could be soy beans, that is not necessarily true. All the kanji says is mame mochi. Therefore it is definitely not a totally soy product.

                2. I think that the suggestion of mukago may be correct, and that we were served mukago mochi in one place, and perhaps the other times, it was mame mochi?

                  I'm so grateful (and intrigued) by all your responses and the extra information, thank you all for your input.