If you thought that after nearly four years in this country I had become some kind of a quasi-Japan expert, well...read on.
Mochi is a glutinous rice cake and a staple of most New Year's celebrations in Japan. Traditionally it is made from steamed rice that is beaten to a...well, not a pulp, but a sticky mass with a large wooden mallet. This rhythmic pre-New Year ceremony called mochitsuki requires the labor of two people: one to swing the mallet and the other to turn the mochi and keep it moist. Once it is smooth, it is torn into smaller pieces and usually shaped into bulbous discs.
I was given a rather large quantity of mochi by an acquaintance who had brought it from a remote temple on the Japan Sea in Ishikawa Prefecture. I was of course grateful for the gift, but completely clueless as to what to do with it. He said I could/should grill it. As I have neither a grill nor an oven this was not an option. But I thought, hey, improvise, put those old Parisian culinary skills to use.
I approached it as I would tofu. This was my first mistake. A block of coagulated soy milk is not even remotely the same as a glutinous rice cake. After cutting the mochi into more manageable pieces I heated a pan with a scant amount of oil and tossed them in. Hmm. Mochi doesn't brown it melts. Okay. I added water to the pan. This turned into glue. Hmm. Soup. I'll make soup. I added more water and some vegetables. The mochi was not transitioning from solid to liquid with the heat and water; it was coagulating, becoming more gummy, more gloopy. I poured it into a bowl. It had the consistency of Murray's hair pomade. I literally could have used it to plaster my walls, and I wondered it it hadn't maybe been used for this purpose once upon a time.
There is a mochi soup called zoni. This was not that. It didn't taste bad, but I did have an outside fear that my internal organs might adhere to one another, that I might literally gum up my works. I wondered if I had any solvents on hand. Mochi does in fact send hundreds of people to the hospital every year and choking deaths are not uncommon.
The lesson here is this...well, I don't know if there is a lesson, only that I still have a lot to learn about Japan.