We went to a mochitsuki in Hilo today. A mochitsuki is a gathering of a family or community of neighbors and friends to make mochi or rice cakes. It's an all day event that begins with washing sticky rice. The rice is steamed in wooden boxes in layers over an open fire manned by an experienced tender.
The cooked rice is transferred to a big wooden mortar called an usu and mixed around with sticks. Usually several people surround the mortar with sticks and go at it. The rice is then pounded with mallets – one person at a time with one person turning the mochi rice. This has to be timed and much trust is involved.
The smooth pounded rice is then turned over to the people who shape the mochi. The mochi is used for making ozoni, a traditional soup served on New Year's Day and to display the kagami mochi (two mochi with a tangerine on top). It is an offering of Shinto origin, I believe. This is so much about passing a traditional from one generation to the next.
During the pounding, saké is served. Trays of shots of saké are passed around and the New Year is toasted. Everyone takes a turn at pounding and all of this activity is said to bring good luck.
When the pounding was nearly done, my friend threw together the most delicious kim chee soup. I say threw together because she literally made it in about 15 minutes.
Here's the recipe:
Kim Chee Soup
1 lb. ground pork
1 bottle turnip kim chee
1 bottle napa cabbage kim chee
3 T. kim chee sauce
6 shiitake mushrooms (rehydrated and sliced)
2 bunches long rice (soaked in water)
Two quarts chicken broth
Brown the pork. Add the kim chee sauce.
Add all other ingredients and simmer for a few minutes. Yum!