Usually a couple days before New Years many of us in Hawai’i pound mochi for good luck in the coming year. For the last ten years or so many people congregate in the town of Wailea on the Hamakua coast about 15 miles outside of Hilo. I use the term town loosely as there is only one street. When you turn off the highway, which is an adventure unto itself, you turn on the “main” street and the first thing you see are the many “back in the day” plantation homes. These are the remnants of when sugar cane was king of the island. These rather small houses with their tin roofs housed the mostly Filipino & Japanese workers who helped keep the cane thriving. Once past the homes you enter the “town”. This consists of a “incubator” kitchen. Different bakers use the facility for cookies, chips, etc. We bought a bag of chips, but probably unlike most chips you would buy in the Mainland. The contents of the clear bag with ulu (breadfruit), kalo (taro), yellow sweet potato and purple sweet potato chips are so colorful. Across the street from the kitchen is an art center. This looks to be somewhat communal as well. It has easels for painting and different jars of glazes and clays for ceramics. Farther down the street is Akiko’s Buddhist Bed and Breakfast. It was probably once a plantation managers house as it is quite a big bigger home with two stories. And, that is the town though it does have a very nice park with a baseball diamond. What else do you need?
In front of the B&B was the mochi pounding and Okinawan Taiko. The wonderful Taiko drummers line up in the middle of the street. Several large drums and several smaller drums, a Lion, a martial artist, all part of the group kept people entertained while others pounded the sticky rice in mochi which is sold along with Chicken Hekka and shave ice in front of Akiko’s. My best girlfriend is part of the Taiko group as a drummer and this was the first time I had the opportunity to watch her work…and work it is! It is very physical! She was awesome!
I took videos of the Taiko and another of the actual mochi pounding, but for some reason the file type couldn’t be transferred (huh?). I will try to put it on my Sew Me Hawaii Facebook page. But here I will describe the process. Everything starts at about 6:00am when the rice is placed into a big box which sits over a small fire. Someone keeps an eagle on the water level, etc. As soon as the rice is cooked and sticky it is placed in a large stone bowl. A line of people forms to take a turn to pound the mochi into a smooth sticky dough-like rice substance. Each person picks a large wooden mallet. The mallet itself is about 16-18″ long with a long handle. Each person takes about 10 to 15 swings of the mallet matching each swing after someone turns the rice with their hands. Timing is important to prevent mashed fingers. After the rice is done, it is formed into balls, filled with sweet black bean paste which is traditional, or a new addition of peanut butter (my personal favorite). The balls are flattened on the bottom, boxed and sold. As the mochi making wound up, the process was unable to keep up with the requests and was sold out by the end of the afternoon. The weather was perfect, a balmy 80 degrees, no rain, no wind–absolutely perfect. We headed home by about 2:00 in the afternoon and went to the 5th Av. Grill which is what we call our own lanai. The meals there are far better than what can be found in a moderately priced restaurant. So, now I’m convinced that 2013 will be even better than 2012. Kung hei fat choi… Hau’oli makahiki hou…Happy New Year.