Simple and thus profound, paying visit to discover a Japanese traditional snacks
Speaking of snacks which have been enjoyed together by the whole Japanese family since long ago, rice cakes made from rice are the classic treat. Prepared with just a simple method in which slices of mochi are cooked and then fried, the key to the tastiness are the baker’s fine adjustments. The quality of ingredients is certainly important, yet the production method passed down from generation to generation matches local environmental aspects such as air temperature and humidity.
At Dorogawa-onsen hot spring, known for its abundant natural environment and famous mineral water, traditional kakimochi rice cakes have become a famous product. Doragawa-style kakimochi have a square, flat and thin shape similar to a slice of bread, with a tasty melt-in-the-mouth feeling and fine texture.
We wondered about the secret to this delicious taste and we asked about it to Kakimochi Kobo Yanagiya, a recently built workshop that still adheres to the traditional production process.
The taste comes from a collaboration between nature and human hands
Kakimochi Kobo Yanagiya is a workshop operated by the Dorogawa-onsen hot spring ryokan inns “Hana Akari-no-Juku Yanagiya.” Located at an altitude of 830 meters, Dorogawa-onsen hot spring’s village is characterized by severe cold weather in the winter. Long ago, all the town’s ryokan were generally involved in making kakimochi during the off season. Yet, since it requires such a laborious process, now there are only a few ryokan that are still producing kakimochi, including Yanagiya.
Low temperature and the appropriate amount of humidity are essential to make kakimochi. The production season in a typical year runs from the middle of December to the middle of March. Kakimochi start being made during the cold winter days when one’s breath can be seen in the workshop.
Freshly pounded mochi is put into a box and left to sit for a day before the “kaki” part of the process begins. “Kaki” refers to the work involved in horizontally shaving off slices of the hardened mochi. Concentration and patience are needed to cut the mochi thinly and uniformly.
After forming the kakimochi into a small size that is easy to eat, it is carefully air-dried for about one month. In the past, the kakimochi would have been spread out inside the onsen, but now the bakers use a well-ventilated room in the workshop. Air is an important factor so the workshop manages the air conditioning with thermometers and humidity gauges. The bakers rely on their years of experience to adjust the movement of air by opening the window or closing it a little. The climate of Dorogwawa Onsen, which is enveloped by nature, is what develops the delicious taste of the kakimochi little by little.
The dried kakimochi are complete only after being fried twice, once in 140ºC oil and again in 180ºC oil. Long chopsticks, known as saibashi, are used to spread them out carefully one piece at a time to prevent them from rolling into a ball – a little creativity that constitutes the secret to their delicious taste.
The creators of these delicious snacks
Kakimochi are central to Tanabe-san and her family, who operate Ryokan Yanagiya, producing these snacks along with the mothers in the neighborhood. They are sold mainly through the Yanagiya shop from which they are shipped to customers, but recently kakimochi have even started to be sold in some Kansai-area supermarkets. Along with the kakimochi introduced above, cube-shaped rice cakes known as kiriko are also rising in popularity.
We recommend this as a travel snack when you visit Dorogawa-onsen hot spring.