mochi man

May 17, 2011

i have always known and loved mochi as the pillowy japanese glutinous rice balls, usually filled with a red bean paste, which trader joe’s popularized by stuffing with green tea ice cream. but when i moved to san francisco, nico introduced me to a whole other land of mochi: a rectangle of pounded brown rice that you cut into pieces and bake into tiny, puffy, crunchy-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside nuggets. for the past few years we’ve gone through mochi-binges, trying every flavor (garlic-sesame, brownie, cashew-date!), experimenting with toppings, cooking all the suggested recipes, devouring entire packages in front of the tv. when i realized the factory was right down the street in emeryville, i had to know more about this incredible snack!

tony plotkin is the mastermind behind grainaissance, the rice-based company he co-founded back in heady 70s san francisco. i met him at their small facility in the heart of industrial emeryville and we chatted about the history of the company, the state of health food stores, and being an sf giants fan.

after moving to san francisco from college in chico, tony became interested in macrobiotics and got a job at a health food store in the inner richmond. the store-owner taught him how to make mochi out of his garage on sundays and they launched an entire business based around the sticky snack. macrobiotic enthusiasts and other health-nuts would come from all over the city to get a taste of the original mugwort mochi! eventually the partners split, leaving tony with an empire of brown rice, which he ended up moving to the east bay. their only other product, amazake, is a slightly fermented shake-like rice drink that’s essentially the precursor to sake, flavored with coconut, chai, or cocoa.

i arrived too late in the day to view the actual production, but tony gave me a tour of the simple, no-frills facilities: a single steamy room houses several giant rice cookers; the machine responsible for pounding out the grains into their glutinous form; and the amazake vats and bottling machine. like many small food businesses, their survival now depends on larger chains like whole foods, which can be a double-edged sword. while whole foods is currently tony’s biggest client, he is at the mercy of their ever-changing roster of products, with mochi and amazake sometimes finding themselves on the proverbial chopping block. many of the independent health food stores that would have carried his products out of love or loyalty have either been wiped out or are threatened by chains like whole foods, making the future of his own business quite uncertain…

but with the popularity of wheat & gluten-free, organic, and locally made foods on the rise, tony has the perfect recipe for success, even outside of the bay area health-freak scene. they’re a healthy, fun snack for kids and easy, and quick way to incorporate whole grains into your diet. i can’t wait to see mochi explode in the gluten-free-mom-blog world! how could anyone pass up a snack this delicious and fun?!

tony generously supplied me with several samples of mochi and amazake, so over the past few weeks nico and i have been cooking up all kinds of experimental snacks and meals. tony suggested putting pieces in the waffle iron for mochi waffles, or slicing it into really thin strips, letting them dry overnight, and frying them into chips! there are a LOT of options but our favorites so far have been:

- oatmeal made with coconut amazake! YUM!

- brownie mochi in almond milk with cinnamon aka mochi cereal! YUM!

- big pocket mochi sandwiches w/avocado, hummus, and sprouts! YUM!

- sesame-garlic mochi steamed over veggies! YUM!

- or just plain old mochi with peanut butter or soy sauce or cheese.

BIG THANKS to tony and his staff for letting me tour the facilities and geek out on the facts and stories behind my all-time favorite snack!

mochi & amazake are available at several stores in the bay area, including rainbow grocery in san francisco, mandela foods co-op in west oakland, berkeley bowl, and other independent health food stores! oh yeah, and at whole foods :)

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2 Responses to mochi man

  1. Erin on May 17, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Awesome, Rebecca! I love your mochi-cube montage!

  2. bojagi bash! | BIG THINGS on June 23, 2011 at 12:03 am

    [...] bok-kee, and the sushi-like kimbap! (now i need to find this dduk factory, as i am quite a fan of asian pounded rice snack factories, as you might already know ). all-in-all it’s another great show for the mocfa. if [...]

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