I am a huge fan of Japanase cuisine. Good sushi is like a religious experience for me, and who doesn’t like tempura. The Japanese certainly understand how to begin and end a meal elegantly and how to play with flavors and presentation. As I’ve visited Japan on business trips, I’ve also found green tea kit-kats which are a great delicacy. There’s something about integrating green tea into a crunchy creamy snack cookie.
Sushi and tempura have found it to America, but not the green tea kit-kats. A few years ago I was introduced to another dessert – this one invented by a Japanese-American woman in the 1990s. I was celebrating my birthday away from home, while working a trade show in Chicago. My consolation from being away from home was dinner at my favorite sushi restaurants in the world, Oysy Sushi, on Michigan Avenue, which unfortunately closed last year. So, after a fabulous sushi dinner, I wanted to satisfy my sweet tooth and decided to try something on the menu I’d never heard of called a green tea mochi sundae.
Mochi is a Japanese dessert that’s been around a long time made of pounded sweet rice that’s a chewy, ooey gooey, rice cake. Frances Hashimoto, an influential leader in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood invented this now popular fusion dessert by wrapping ice cream in mochi and calling it mochi ice cream. It turns out to be a delicious ice cream sandwich in a perfect size for topping a wonderful dinner. Like everything Japanese it’s a neat little size that won’t melt all over you like a traditional American ice cream sandwich.
Hashimoto fought to preserve her Los Angeles neighborhood’s cultural traditions. Herself, born in a World War II interment camp (Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona) in 1943, she created a brand Mikawaya USA, that broke out of the ethnic food niche and is widely carried by Trader Joes, Albertsons, Ralph’s and Safeway. Why does it seem that all good food comes from cultural adversity! Trader Joe’s carries a pumpkin flavor mochi ice cream for the holiday season. Her family’s Mikawaya store was started by her great uncle, Ryuzabaro Hashimoto, in 1910 in the heart of Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district. They served traditional Japanese confectionaries to the Japanese immigrant communities of southern California. Frances took over the business in 1970 and turned it into an empire, with a popular brand of mochi ice cream and five retail locations.
The Mikawaya mochi now comes in an assortment of several flavors: Green tea, matcha green tea, mango, mint chip, red bean, black sesame, strawberry, plum wine, cookies and cream, kona coffee, vanilla, and chocolate. I’ve only tasted the green tea, but I’m sure all the other flavors are just as good.
Perfectly sized, mochi are an elegant and chewy, creamy and delicious Japanese-American treat!