Warabi mochi – realism in fiction

I confess, I have a very bad habit. I can obsess about a single trivial detail to the point that it stalls my writting. Take my current dormant LOTR fanfic. It’s stuck for years because I can’t find an original Rohirric sounding name for Eomer’s grandfather!

What does this have to do with warabi mochi? Well, it’s the beginning of how I ended making warabi mochi (at least the semi-authentic one).

It started with the story called The Adventures of Young Tezuka Kunimitsu, a Prince of Tennis fanfiction. Despite my earlier determination to stick to short stories and short time-line stories, I’ve become over ambitious. I’ve decided to write Tezuka’s childhood. Okay, so he’s still a kid. I’m looking at his pre-adolescent stage. What and how he became the 14-year-old Tezuka we are familiar with. So, I’ve limited myself to his life between ages 5 and 11. There are several reasons I did this.

  1. I’ve just finished a short short one-shot story called Glimpses of Young Tezuka Kunimitsu. Think of it as snapshots of Tezuka from age 0 to 11. Summary of his pre-teen. It was quite an experimental piece, and if I say so myself, I’m quite happy with how it turned out.
  2. So, I decided to write another, this time longer and using Glimpses as a skeleton or summary. That way, I can force myself to aim in a certain direction and limit the detours.
  3. I just finished and have safely attained the unthinkable B.Sc in Psychology! And I missed Psych classes and learning about all thing Psychological.
  4. My last subject was Developmental Psychology that covers psychological changes and learning in different life stages, from birth to death. One of the area heavily emphasised was Child Psychology. Naturally, to keep myself and memory in shape, what safer way to exercise my newly acquired knowledge than to attempt to apply theories to practice, in the form of young Tezuka. What? You thought I was going to practice being shrink to unsuspecting kids? No, that would be unethical. Imaginary kids don’t count.
  5. I got tired of too many fanfics that describe Tezuka with only one word. Stoic. Sometimes, they try to be a bit more articulate by using two words, stoic captain. Like it’s printed on his forehead and he doesn’t have a name. Just a label. Then proceed to turn him into an emo while describing him as a robot, a rock, a wall or an ice-cube. This is a my protest. So, it became one of my humble attempts at humanising him without making him out of character.
  6. Second protest … there are way way way too many slash and OC romances in the fandom. I know, it’s full of girl fans despite being a boy manga/anime. Still, doesn’t mean every freaking story have to be another slash/romance. So, this my subtle attempt at promoting a family and friendship genre. I mean, hey, PoT is a sports and friendship and crack sort of story. I’m just going back to the original source. Well, two out of three is not bad. I really can’t do crack. Sorry folks.
  7. That’s it.

How did warabi mochi figured into this? Well, I was writting about Tezuka in the Summer, doing things summery in Japan. I type type type … and he was eating mochi. Hmm … do Japanese eat mochi in summer? Google … click clicky click… And Japanese eat warabi mochi in summer. Other special occasions, they eat other types of mochi. Right … so, edit.

Hey, does warabi mochi have the kind of characteristics I was writting about in the story? More search. This time, it’s a lot harder to find information about warabi mochi, as to the texture, taste, consistency, stickiness, etc. In fact, it’s pretty obscure, which added a sense of mystery to this wagashi.

Did I mention I can get obsessive? Well, more searches in forums and blogs, where people tends to talk about personal experience. And I found several things, none of which satisfy the questions that I have.

  1. Warabi is originally made of bracken flour. And in this day and age, it’s extremely expensive.
  2. Modern day warabi mochi is made of part warabi (5%), potato and tapioca flour. Some includes lotus flour.
  3. There’s a restaurant in Singapore that serves warabi mochi and dango on the menu. And it’s not ridiculously expensive (circa $7.80).
  4. There’s a guy who wrote how to make your own warabi mochi from the warabi mochi pack that is sold in Japan.

While all writers think warabi mochi is very delicious, like I said, none of them answers the questions that I have. So, I did the most logical thing. I hunted down that Japanese restaurant and ordered one warabi mochi and dango plate. Warabi mochi was indeed delicious. Dango was terrible. I got to thinking … if the dango is that bad, how authentic is the warabi mochi?

Today, being a long weekend and me being bored with staying at home all day yesterday, I decided to check out Meidi-ya supermarket at Liang Court. Aside from Takashimaya, Liang Court has the highest concentration of all things Japanese. After walking up and down the isles and drooling over many things Japanese, many very expensive things Japanese, I found the isle with dried / flour stuff. What attracted me was the packets of kinako (roasted soya flour) that is traditionally served with warabi mochi. Then after a second look, I found a packet with three smaller packets inside. Yep, it’s the warabi mochi set. There’s the big white pack of warabiko. A medium tan-coloured pack of kinako. And a small black liquid pack of kuromitsu (black sugar syrup). For a reasonable price of SGD 3.50. I cannot not buy it. So, that’s how I ended up making warabi mochi tonight at 10.00 pm.

From top left - Instructions, packaging, warabi mochiko ( warabi mochi flour), kuromitsu (black syrup), kinako (toasted soya flour)

And yes, it is delicious. It’s not what I imagined at all. It’s nothing like mochi. So, for my future self (if I ever forget and needs description of warabi mochi again) and for all writers who are curious or in need of little minutae, I shall now answer my own question.

Warabi mochi is (without kinako or kuromitsu or any other flavouring):

  1. transparent
  2. tasteless
  3. smells like agar-agar (clear seaweed jelly)
  4. feels slippery in the hand, since it’s cooled and lubricated with water.
  5. But once you break the outer layer, the inner layer is somewhat sticky, but feels kind of watery slimy sticky
  6. if you press lightly, it will stick to your finger, then let go. It prefers to stick to itself.
  7. If you squeeze a glob of it in your hand, it’s messy and sticks all over your hand and will be difficult to unstick due to larger sticking area and small volume per surface area (aka weak bond in thin coating vs strong bond in thick ball)
  8. Water is the main lubricant used to keep warabi mochi from sticking to each other and to the preparation surface. This is unlike mochi. Mochi will stick despite  having thin layer of water between it and some surface. That’s why most use potato/corn flour to coat it.
  9. Point  8 makes warabi mochi less messy and easier to handle, post cooking.
  10. A blob of warabi mochi reminds me of what an ice-berg looks like (transparent but with white high lights and deeper brown colour in its depths) and feels like agar-agar jelly (feels cool to touch) and will have a resistance to being poked.
  11. It is different from agar-agar in that it is more elastic (stretchable) and sticky. Agar-agar in comparison is more brittle and watery and definitely not sticky. However, both feels cool and soft to the touch.

Here is the lump of warabi mochiko, 120 grams minus the bits that stuck on the pot. It's translucemt white.

And that is my impression of my home-cooked warabi mochi, unplugged.

Now, for the works … Cut bite sized pieces of warabi mochi with plastic knife wetted with water. It will stick to the knife if it’s not wet. Pour kuromitsu, which acts like lubricant between the pieces of warabi mochi. Sprinkle kinako on top.

It’s very very delicious. Kuromitsu provides the sweet taste. Kinako has a roasted nutty smell and flavour. Reminds me of gram flour. Now, if a kid (and me) likes warabi mochi, it’s because kinako smells wonderful and kuromitsu is sweet and warabi mochi is cool and gooey.

Warabi mochi - cut into small pieces, drenched with syrup and sprinkled with kinako

Pics to follow. Maybe tomorrow, after I have time to crop it.

Oh! Conclusion … the warabi mochi episode needs a rewrite, but still serves the context I had planned for it. What a relief!

2010-10-10 : A month late, but pictures are finally added.

More pictures in Picasaweb.

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