Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mochi Fest 2011

The first time I was introduced to mochi was last year at Kiwi yogurt, a popular frozen yogurt business near campus. Small and semi-transparent cubes, I at first passed over the mochi gummies in the toppings section for the numerous and colorful fruit options. However, at the insistence of a friend, I added a few to my heaping fro-yo cup—and I was not disappointed.

For those unfamiliar, mochi (pronounced "moe-chee") is traditionally a Japanese confection, though also popular in other Asian cultures, made of sticky rice that is pounded and molded into shape. Plain mochi is white and has a bland taste and gummy texture. However, it can be sweetened or flavored and is used in a variety of dishes, including ice creams, pastries, and soups. Sweetened and cut into small gummies, mochi is also a standard topping at many fro-yo restaurants like Kiwi.

Combined with the tangy frozen yogurt, mochi gummies add an interesting texture to my usual mix of fruity toppings and have become a staple for my Kiwi concoctions. So when I heard about the second annual Mochi Fest being held in Harrison College House's Sky Lounge this past Friday, I was eager to expand my mochi horizons.

Hosted by the Japan Student Association, the event featured a total of ten mochi dishes from all over Asia for only 50 cents a sample, prepared by the co-hosting Penn organizations. The event was packed when I arrived, and I was able to sample seven of the dishes.

1. Coconut Mochi Cake with Mango and Macadamia Nuts

First I tried the Coconut Mochi Cake with Mango and Macadamia Nuts made by the Penn Taiwanese Society. Crumbly on the outside and gummy on the inside, the baked mochi had a nice mix of textures, as well as a yummy blend of nutty and coconut flavors.

2. Muah Chee

Next was the Muah Chee made by Club Singapore. Instead of a cake, this mochi dish consisted of mochi balls coated in fragrant toasted peanuts, sesame seeds, and sugar. Because the mochi was not baked, its texture was stickier than the cake.

3. Kinako Mochi

Following the Muah Chee, I tried the Kinako Mochi, small mochi cakes coated in kinako (soy flour) and sugar, prepared by Penn Sangam. This dessert was sweet but slightly bland.

4. Mitarashi Dango

The next sample I tried was the Mitarashi Dango made by the Hong Kong Student Association. Though described as sweet and salty, I found the skewered mochi dumplings to be a unpleasant combination of gumminess and soy-sauce flavor.

5. Mochi Ube Ice Cream

One of my favorite dishes of the night was the Mochi Ube Ice Cream made by the Penn Philippine Association. Simply sweet mochi topped with vibrant purple ice cream made with ube (a purple yam frequently used in Filipino desserts that tastes similar to taro), the dessert was a delicious mix of cold, creamy ice cream and slightly pasty and gummy mochi.

6. Chocolate-Coated Mochi with Strawberry Ice Cream

I also enjoyed the next dessert I tried, Chocolate-Coated Mochi with Strawberry Ice Cream made by alpha Kappa Delta Phi. Chocolate and strawberry being a classic flavor combination, the mochi cakes, coated in cocoa powder and sugar, paired well with the strawberry ice cream.

7. Hoddeok

In addition to the Mochi Ube Ice Cream, my other favorite dish of the night was the last I tried, Hoddeok made by the Korean Students Association. A glutinous pan-fried rice cake with a honey and walnut filling, the dessert was warm and flavorful. The dough was delicious and chewy, and the filling was syrupy and sweet.

The three dishes that I unfortunately did not get a chance to try were the Japan Student Association's Green Tea Ice Cream with Kinako, Black Sesame, and Red Bean Shiratama, the Chinese Students Association's Assorted Flavored Mochi Stuffed with Red Bean and Nutella, and the Wharton Asia Exchange's Blueberry Mochi Cake.

Nevertheless, I was overall thrilled with the mochi dishes I tried. I encourage others to venture beyond the mochi fro-yo topping, and to experience the variety of dishes prepared with this gummy treat!

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