At the beginning of this month, I saw a post on Facebook about mochi pounding at Ootoya’s Greenwich Village location in NYC. Ootoya is a authentic Japanese izakaya chain. By authentic, we mean that there isn’t anything particularly interesting on the menu, although it’s all very good, in the way you’d expect Japanese food to be. Service and atmosphere are very good as well, especially for the relatively low price point Ootoya has for this category of restaurant in Manhattan.
The restaurant staff almost completely devoted themselves to the event – no orders were accepted during the event (although diners already seated could continue with their meals).
First, a Japanese employee talked about what he was going to do, while another employee translated for us (not that most of the mochi-pounding-watchers needed translation, as most of them were Japanese as well). The stone vessel is for pounding a mass of cooked, soaked white rice, and the metal pot is full of water which is added to the rice as necessary to prevent sticking.
The rice was brought to the pot in a cloth and dumped in quickly.
Raise the mallet…
…and bring it down!
This was a fun, interactive event. After the employees demonstrated the process a bit, they let anyone who wanted to try pounding the mochi come up and use the mallet (although an employee continued to do the more dangerous role of reaching into the stone container between pounds and turning over the rice glob). Many children attended this event, and they got lots of photo ops in.
The kitchen brought out fresh mochi at the end, which had been portioned out and came in three types. First up was mochi dusted in kinako, roasted soybean powder. It’s nutty and very slightly sweet, and also goes down better if you have liquid.
Tea and water were served.
Then came the mochi topped with mashed anko (red bean) and mashed edamame. I have never had edamame mochi before and thought it was some sort of green tea paste. We commonly associate mochi with sweet things (mochi ice cream, anmitsu, mochi on frozen yogurt), but this was a good reminder that the totally neutral base of white rice that is mochi can have interesting savory applications as well. Mitarashi dango combine the sweet and the savory – I’ll have to try those some day.
At the end of this (free) event, they thanked us for coming by giving us a gift certificate. This is totally a Japanese-level of customer service. Everyone else: this is how you get customer loyalty.
Ootoya Greenwich Village
41E 11th St., New York, NY 10003