Top row, from left: Nantu mochi (filled with an, dipped in soy-bean flour),
sweet-potato mochi, traditional white mochi, yaki manju (baked) and tsumami mochi (green, filled with an). Row 2: Momo (peach) mochi, furusato manju (baked with sweet-potato filling), chi chi mochi (soft, milk-flavored), plum flower (red for good luck, with red azuki-bean filling) and sweet-potato mochi.
Row 3: Plum flower, nantu mochi, azuma manju (baked, topped with walnut), peach mochi, traditional white. Row 4: Clam (summer specialty), tsumami mochi, pie-crust manju, lilikoi mochi and yaki manju.
By Kekoa Catherine Enomoto
Mochi mandate No. 1: Order at least one day in advance.
At Hilo's Two Ladies Kitchen, the Uchida family makes a luscious strawberry mochi, perfectly suited to local-style omiyage -- the cross-cultural tradition of toting one island's gifts to family and friends on another island.
It's so perfectly suited that demand always exceeds supply. The modest, two-room family operation does turn-away business four days a week.
"I kind of want to keep it like this, because it's very neighbor island," says co-owner Nora Uchida. Her aunt Tomi Tokeshi is her nimble-fingered collaborator.
"People always tell me, 'Why don't you branch out or take your mochi to Honolulu?' But we won't. It's too perishable for one thing, and then you can never control the freshness that way."
The Hilo delectable features a fresh strawberry nestled in creamy tsubushi an, or whole, mashed red-azuki bean filling, then covered with freshly steamed mochi. Cost is $1.65 per 2-1/2-inch-round morsel.
By Cindy Ellen Russell, Star-Bulletin
Carol Tsunezumi and Toshiyasu Kishimoto, above, cover
fresh mochi with cloth to prevent hardening. Left, Nora Uchida
serves the Tsukayama family in her busy shop.
The Uchidas prepare the handmade confections, carrying on family and cultural traditions in a uniquely Hilo way: "This is how we are. This is a small shop and that's it. What you see is what you get," says Uchida.
Like the organizers of the perennially sold-out Merrie Monarch hula competition, the Two Ladies are loyalists of the Big Island's capital city.
"Some things are just Hilo things, and when I think about Hilo, to me Hilo should be made up of these little specialty shops," Uchida says. "That's what makes it interesting for people to visit and to take omiyage back.
"We could use more help maybe," she admits, "but we're pretty much satisfied. So just knock on wood, the business keeps coming and people like our mochi."
The strawberry-mochi saga started with Uchida's grandmother, a scratch mochi maker. Seven years ago Uchida asked her aunty to teach her how to make mochi; they made it as gifts.
Then, three years ago, Uchida gave up teaching elementary school to open the business. Initially, the Two Ladies shared a kitchen with a beef-jerky maker near Edith Kanaka'ole Tennis Stadium, home of Merrie Monarch. Later they moved to downtown Hilo.
Their kitchen is warm and humid. Square wooden boxes and round plastic containers lie about, laden with golf ball-sized mochi -- softly contoured in pastels of purple, mint, peach, plum red and yellow.
The occasional sing-song signal of customers opening the front door rings out, breaking through the patter of Hilo rain outside. Uchida opens an oven, which emits a toasty fragrance of manju pastries.
She says her mother, 73-year-old Sachiko Kishimoto, captains the making of the mochi and tsubushi an -- instinctively, without measuring or timing. Her dad, retired carpenter Toshiyasu Kishimoto, 77, prepares the an filling, builds the wheeled carts and performs minor repairs.
"It's such a family affair," says Uchida, whose sons deliver and whose husband Norman comes in after his job in order to sort strawberries or sweep.
Uchida herself arrives early -- 4:30 a.m. on busy Saturdays -- to sets up. Later, she and her aunt will repeat over and over the ritual of pinching off a plug of mochi dough, dusting it with cornstarch, then folding it twice to achieve a manageable mass.
Uchida nestles balls of sweet-bean or lima-bean paste inside, followed by a berry; then she closes each with a tuck and a pinch.
Besides the strawberry mochi, the Two Ladies offer assortments of six to 20 variously shaped and colored mochi. Tokeshi, a ceramicist, sculpts plum flowers, rotund peaches and seasonal specialties, such as small, orange Halloween pumpkins and diminutive green Christmas trees decorated with tiny silver balls.
Other types range from green tsumami mochi, to traditional Okinawan nantu mochi, and flaky pie-crust manju, a specialty.
"The strawberry mochi is the most popular for the younger people," Uchida says, "and the assorted mochi is really popular."
These mochi makers display can-do spirit.
"Every day my father says to me this Japanese word -- ganbare -- which means you just have to try your very best, give it from your heart and your soul," Uchida says.
"That's our philosophy here: Just try our best. We're not a big fancy shop or anything, and sometimes people get angry because we cannot always fulfill what they want from us at such short notice."
Limiting the mochi supply has a practical purpose.
"It is a product that demands freshness," Uchida says. "It will stay at its peak maybe two, 2-1/2 days. But we don't sell old things, because every day we want to make a fresh batch.
"So, you can understand why we can only make so much, sell it, then start all over again.
"I don't know if there's any secret to our mochi, except that it's the old-fashioned way and we enjoy making it. Someone said to me once there's something about carrying omiyage home from the outer islands, and that's what makes it so special -- that you're carrying this."
The Two Ladies Kitchen recipes are proprietary, according to Uchida. But recipes follow from two Hawaii cookbooks.
Strawberry mochi"Friends from Hilo High School Present 'Ohana Style Cookbook II"
(Island Heritage, 1995, $12.50)3 cups waterWrap strawberries with koshi an and set aside for mochi wrap.
1 cup sugar
1 box mochiko
1 can koshi an (smooth red-azuki bean filling)
Potato starch (katakuriko)
Boil water and sugar. Add mochiko a little at a time and mix well. Remove from heat. Place on a surface powdered with katakuriko and pound well. Pull into small pieces and wrap strawberry and squeeze ends. Makes 15 mochi pieces.
Approximate nutritional analysis per piece: 240 calories, no fat or cholesterol, 70 mg sodium.*
Mochi"The Legacy of the Japanese in Hawaii: Cuisine"
(Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i, 1989)1 cup mochiko (rice flour)Stir together rice flour, salt and sugar. Stir in 1/2 cup water to form soft dough. Lightly knead about 30 seconds on surface dusted with katakuriko.
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar, optional
1/2 cup water
Katakuriko (potato starch) or cornstarch
Bring 4 cups water to a boil in deep pot. Spread a piece of dampened unbleached muslin or several layers of cheesecloth over a steamer tray. Spread dough evenly over dampened cloth, about 1/2 inch thick.
Cover tray; place over boiling water. Steam 20 minutes. Remove steamer tray from pan. Lift out cloth with dough. Pull cloth away from dough, letting dough fall onto a flat surface dusted with potato starch or cornstarch. Cool dough 1 to 2 minutes.
While still hot, knead 1 minute or until smooth and shiny. Roll glutinous dough into an 8-inch-long sausage-shaped roll. Cut into 8 equal pieces.
Dust with potato starch or cornstarch as needed to prevent sticking. Form tops of pieces into smooth round shapes. They will flatten on the bottom when placed on a flat surface. Serve rice cakes the same day while fresh, if possible. Makes 8 pieces.
Microwave instructions: Cover and microwave on medium-high 10 minutes. Rest 3 minutes. Turn and cook additional 2 to 3 minutes or until done.
For an mochi: Pinch off walnut-size pieces of steamed mochi. Place 1 tablespoon an in each circle of dough; pinch edges to seal and dust with katakuriko (potato starch).
For Chichi dango: Add 2 tablespoons melted margarine and substitute 1/2 cup water with 1/2 cup milk.
Approximate nutritional analysis per piece: 80 calories, no fat or cholesterol, 70 mg sodium. With an: 120 calories, 0.5 g fat, no saturated fat or cholesterol, 110 mg sodium. Chichi dango: 115 calories, 3.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, less than 5 mg cholesterol, 110 mg sodium.*