Ichigo daifuku is a delightfully soft and mildly chewy Japanese sweet made with fresh strawberries and sweet red bean paste wrapped together in a thin layer of mochi. The combination of flavours and textures is pretty awesome.
And while the strawberry variety is a definite favourite, there are many other flavours of daifuku, too—from Oreo cookie to mango to sweet cream to matcha. Almost all daifuku are made with either red or white bean paste.
When it comes to enjoying sweet and delicious mochi, the possibilities are endless. From traditional preparations to modern twists, each distinct treat is worth a try (or three!).
Mochi in its most elemental form is kirimochi—hard white squares that you can buy and cook yourself.
Looking for a sweet treat you can really sink your teeth into? Meet mochi, a rice cake made with glutinous, short-grained Japanese rice (mochigome). Mochigome, which differs from other varieties of rice because of its gel-like consistency, is pounded into a paste and then used to make various desserts and snacks. Mochi is incredibly filling (a small matchbox-sized piece of mochi is the equivalent to an entire bowl of rice!) and was a favourite among the samurai as well as hardworking Japanese farmers, thanks to the combination of its portability and ability to satiate for long periods of time. The exact origin of mochi is somewhat unclear, although there is evidence of it dating back as early as the Yayoi period (300 BCE–300 CE). Mochi was enjoyed by the emperor himself, as well as by his family and circle of nobles, and the delicacy was considered to be “food for the gods.” Later records (from the Heian period, 794–1185 CE) show that mochi was included as part of New Year’s festivities and it was believed that eating long strands of fresh mochi would lead to a long life and overall well-being.
The traditional method of preparation involves using a mortar (usu) and pestle (kine) to pound the rice.
There are many different (and all delicious!) ways to enjoy this Japanese delicacy and, luckily for us, many shops and cafés in the GTA have made a point of mastering the different variations. In Japan, varieties of mochi change with the seasons and according to special holidays and celebrations.
The traditional way of preparing mochi was a labour-intensive process, with the rice being soaked overnight and then steamed, mashed and pounded in a steady rhythm by two people with wooden mallets in a mortar. Thankfully, the modern preparation is far less labour-intensive, meaning mochi is more accessible for us all to enjoy! This modern version of preparing mochi involves cooking mochiko (the flour of mochigome) on the stovetop or microwave and then forming and filling it using specialized machines. As for nutrition, mochi, being made from rice flour, is both gluten-free and cholesterol-free and will keep one feeling full for a while.
Toasted mochi is one of the easiest ways to enjoy fresh kirimochi. It is best eaten immediately after cooking.
However you choose to enjoy mochi, do be mindful in taking your time to eat it. Mochi, while delicious, can be quite dangerous as its chewiness can pose a choking hazard if consumed too quickly. Make sure to take small bites or cut the mochi into small pieces, especially for consumption by young children or the elderly. Mochi, in its many variations, deserves to be enjoyed by all— and often. Outlined below are just some of the many different types of mochi available for your tasting pleasure.
Oshiruko is a sweet azuki red bean soup. It is a popular traditional dessert in Japan, as well as across a lot of Asia, that is often served on New Year’s and other celebratory occasions. Oshiruko is a simple treat that is made from red beans, water and sugar, and is served hot. The Japanese version of Oshiruko differs from other varieties in its inclusion of delicious chewy mochi (sticky rice cakes).
Kashiwamochi is a traditional treat where a thin layer of mochi is wrapped around a bean filling, either red or white bean paste, which is then wrapped inside an oak (kashiwa) leaf. The two varieties can be differentiated from each other by the way the kashiwa leaf is wrapped (veins in or veins out). This dessert is commonly enjoyed in Japan on Children’s Day, which celebrates the happiness of childhood.
Mochi ice cream
Mochi ice cream is a Japanese dessert made of ice cream enveloped by a thin layer of mochi. Whether your preference is to visit one of the many places in our great city that specialize in making fresh mochi ice cream, grab an imported box off the shelf of your go-to Asian grocer, or attempt making the delicious and refreshing treat at home, there are many varieties and flavours out there to choose from.
Botamochi is a traditional Japanese confectionery made of sticky mochi and sweet azuki (red bean) paste. It is made by combining the azuki paste with soaked and cooked rice. In Japan it is typical to eat botamochi during the spring season, which is the blooming time of the botan flower (Japanese peony), after which the snack is named. During the spring equinox, relatives often visit ancestral graves and make offerings of botamochi as well as water, fruit and incense.
Sakuramochi is a chewy and delightful Japanese delicacy made of pink-coloured mochi filled with sweet red bean paste (An), then wrapped in a salty pickled cherry blossom (sakura) leaf. Sakuramochi is often eaten in celebration of Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day) and throughout the springtime cherry blossom season. In fact, sakuramochi symbolizes springtime in Japan for many. As for the sakura leaf—while it is technically edible, on sakuramochi it is strictly there for its pleasant scent.
Kusamochi, sometimes recognized by the name “grass mochi” and easily distinguishable by its green colour, is a type of mochi treat that is made with mochi and yomogi, Japanese mugwort, or from Jersey cudweed. Typically, kusamochi is either a dark green shade because the mochi is blended with ground yomogi, or else it is speckled with flecks of yomogi leaf. This springtime treat sometimes has a red bean filling in its centre.
Warabimochi is a popular type of mochi in Japan. It is difficult to find warabimochi outside of Japan though, thanks to its hard-to-source ingredients. Warabimochi is a jelly-like mochi treat that is dusted with sweet and nutty soybean powder, sometimes filled with azuki beans, and then is drizzled with kuromitsu (brown sugar) syrup. Warabimochi is served chilled and, as such, makes a refreshing summertime treat.
Where to find mocha sweets
H Café offers a wide variety of Japanese desserts and pastries, from the more traditional to the trendy. All of the selections, which range from Japanese cheesecakes to mochi, are freshly made by hand each and every day.
4750 Yonge St., North York 647-350-8868
158 Main St., Unionville 905-604-6670
Heisei Mart is an authentic Japanese grocery store located inside of J-Town that carries a wide variety of imported goods from Japan for consumers to enjoy at home— including a selection of top-quality frozen mochi ice cream!
J-Town, 3160 Steeles Ave. E., Markham | 905-305- 0108
Situated in the heart of Kensington Market and specializing in Japanese desserts freshly baked in-house, served along- side artisan coffee, Little Pebbles is the perfect spot to relax with a book or to catch up with old friends.
160 Baldwin St., store #4 416-792-0404 | little- pebbles.com
Sasaki Fine Pastry
This hidden gem of a café turns out some of the most delicious wagashi (handmade Japanese sweets) one can imagine eating outside of Japan, including its ever-popular daifuku in an incredible variety of flavours inspired by the seasons.
3160 Steeles Ave. E., Unit 5B, Markham | 905-604- 4055
Tsujiri Toronto specializes in matcha, a Japanese green tea powder. A favourite is the Tsujiri sundae, made with matcha soft serve ice cream and a number of toppings including a shiratama ball, a type of mochi made with shiratamako rice flour. The chain also serves daifuku mochi.
147 Dundas St. W., Toronto | 647-351-7899 • Square One, 100 City Centre Dr., Mississauga
4909 Yonge St., North York | 647-341-6622 tsujiri-global.com