For Erino Wade, not eating mochi for the new year is like not eating turkey on Thanksgiving for most Americans. When Wade lived in San Francisco for 16 years, it was easy to find fresh mochi to celebrate the holiday, but once she moved to Somerville two years ago, she had trouble locating it. A kind friend air-freighted some to her, but Wade still felt homesick for San Francisco and Japan. So when she received a mochi-making kit as a wedding gift last March, she knew she was going to put it to good use.
“I always liked mochi as a child and it was easy to find in San Francisco and Japan,” Wade said on a recent afternoon in her sunny Somerville kitchen. “So I just couldn’t do without it.”
For those who haven’t experienced the deliciousness that is mochi, it’s a Japanese rice cake made from glutinous rice that is pounded into a paste and molded into the desired shape. (And don’t let the rice cake term fool you, these aren’t dry and hard, they’re soft and pillowy)
Wade began making mochi with her wedding gift and found that people really liked what she created. Wade’s friends loved when she brought mochi to potlucks, though they sometimes surprised her by how they ate it, such as grilling the mochi or using it to mop up the remains of a strawberry rhubarb pie.
A furniture designer by trade, Wade’s artistic background shows in her mochi creations. Some of them look more like little works of art than food, but they all taste delicious. A slowdown in furniture design work led Wade to start thinking about turning her mochi-making into a business.
“So many people said, ‘I never thought I would get fresh mochi here,'” Wade said. “People wanted to pay me and I wanted to do it right.” So Wade got her home kitchen licensed by the city of Somerville and got to work on Mochi Kitchen.
“I felt like I needed to do something creative,” Wade said. She took dozens of photos of her mochi and made a website, often working until the wee hours of the morning to make her dream a reality.
Wade started out selling the mochi to individual customers, but her business has grown to include large events like a Japanese new year’s celebration at the Boston Children’s Museum. She’s also made mochi for birthday parties, fund-raising events and business association meetings. And Wade has found a niche among people who don’t eat animal products.
“Some of my customers prefer vegan foods, so they are happy to find a little treat they can have,” Wade said. Her mochi contains only a small amount of sugar, with the majority of the sweetness coming from the rice.
Many people think of mochi as being paired with ice cream, but Wade makes mochi in many varieties, both sweet and savory, that can be eaten as dessert or a snack (or really, any time the craving strikes). Wade’s mochi flavors range from the traditional red bean to chocolate with dried cranberries and cayenne pepper. She’s also tapped into some regional flavors by using maple syrup as a topping. Wade looks at each mochi like a blank canvas just waiting for her creative touches.
The mochi-making process is intense, taking about eight to 10 hours to complete. All of Wade’s mochi is prepared fresh for customers when they order it, so it requires a bit of planning, but the wait is worth it. I sampled two varieties of mochi while at Wade’s and they were both delicious, like soft pillows covered with delicious toppings like soy powder and maple syrup and a sweet soy sauce glaze and sesame seeds.
Wade’s mochi business started out catering mostly to Japanese customers but over time, she’s expanded and now has clients from many different walks of life.
“The Boston area is opening up to something different and trying something new,” Wade said. Wherever her customers are from, it’s the positive feedback they provide that makes her smile.
“It’s such a rewarding feeling when the customers email back and say they loved it and they never knew mochi could taste this way,” Wade said. “It’s so special that someone decided to get something from me.”