February 25, 2022

Mochi: A Delicious History

Throughout the history of eastern asian culture, there has been an ebb and flow of cultural influence from various groups of people. One of these groups, known as the Hakka, has been migrating from China to places all over the world time and time again.

The Hakka are unlike other immigrants, as they are primarily only distinguished by their language and their food culture. In the 17th century, during the Ming dynasty, many Hakka sought refuge in Taiwan, bringing their language and impressive nutrient dense foods along for the ride. Hakka are now found all over the world, and those in Taiwan make up the second largest population demographic, a testament to the peoples’ resilience.

The significance of a traveling people like the Hakka comes out in their cuisine. When the Hakka entered Taiwan, they were among the first groups of people to really cultivate and develop the island. The taxing work of farming required foods that were nutrient dense, and allowed for high energy intake for the laborious jobs that came with agriculture. One of these foods is known as Mochi.

Mochi is a sticky rice ball that is still an important food in Hakka culture. In the Hakka language, mochi is called ‘ciba,’ and was originally a very portable food high in electrolytes and salt that was a quick and easy way for the farmers to provide their bodies with a quick energy boost.  Today, travelers to the eastern island nation will see Taiwanese Mochi served up during the Lunar New Year, various festivals, and as a staple treat given to wedding guests.

Originally called ‘doushu,’ this Taiwanese rice cake became known as Mochi during the Japanese colonial period from 1895 to the end of World War II. Though Japanese influence affected the name of Mochi, the Hakka style made in Taiwan still holds true to its original recipe. The traditional style still involves hand-grinding the glutinous rice, pressing it dry, and kneading the dough into a soft delicious texture that is chewy rather than sticky.

Mochi in Taiwan can be served with a rolled sugar coating, sometimes mixed with either ground peanuts or sesame seeds. Usually served slightly warm, Taiwanese mochi is versatile enough to be served with a variety of mixtures to be dipped in.

Like the Hakka people that originated its recipe, Taiwanese Mochi is resilient and versatile. It’s a snack that has survived the ages, and trying it is the best way to learn about the culture that created such delicious history.