This article was written by BenitoLink intern Eden De Alba
Some families celebrate the holidays by watching movies and decorating the Christmas tree, but for one San Benito County family, the holidays are a time to make mochi.
A dessert made of sweet rice, water and sugar, mochi originated in Japan in the Jomon period around 10,000 BC. Nowadays, it’s commonly served during the Shinto new year’s holidays.
On Dec. 10, the Shingai family, of which some members have been living in San Juan Bautista for over 50 years, honored their past by gathering outside the Japanese hall of San Juan Bautista and making fresh mochi to share with their loved ones, a family tradition ever since they first came to the United states.
“It’s a vital part of our culture,” Sharon Shingai said. “It’s just a tradition that we want to continue and with each new year, we make new friends and continue to bring the whole family together.”
The mochi making process is long but rewarding. First, the family steams sweet rice, called mochigome, in a bamboo box called a seiro. After that, the rice is poured out and pounded with a mallet by several people into a doughy consistency. Finally, the mochi is cut and rolled into balls, and various fillings—from red beans to strawberries—are added, or it’s just served plain.
Some of the mochi is made into a special kagami mochi, which is placed on Shinto altars during the new year’s celebration to offer to the god Toshigami in exchange for good fortune.
“It is a staple food,” Nathan Gabriel, a relative of the Shingais said. “I know for a fact not many people make it by hand anymore because of machines, so doing this allows us to reconvene.”
Working outdoors under a canopy during a heavy rain, Gabriel led the family as they pounded the mochi.
After making several batches, the family sat together to enjoy a comforting meal of oden (soup), onigiri (rice balls), and karaage (fried) chicken.
“It’s important that in a country so diverse, everyone remembers and honors their traditions, no matter what they are, because it just makes the world a better place,” Shingai said.
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