I took another trip back to Nijinonaka, the local farmers’ market here in Tokaimura. Every once in a while they have a special festival day, and local farmers gather to sell their fruits and veggies at an even better price than usual. It’s not just about produce, though. There are lots of artisans selling baked goods, rice crackers, pickles, miso paste, peach juice, and a whole bunch of other goodies.
I picked up three bags of Japanese rice crackers (sembei), which came in neat flavors like ginger, chili pepper, and soy sauce. The ginger ones were frosted in a thick coating of white icing and I was a little dubious at first, but they taste just like gingerbread cookies!
Another favorite of mine was the stand selling chocolate coated roasted soy beans. They also had little boxes of soy cookies where you could choose from pumpkin, purple sweet potato, spinach, and carrot flavors.
Perhaps best of all was the fresh mochi! If you haven’t heard of mochi before, it’s this heavenly thick gooey rice cake made out of a special type of pounded rice. Nowadays, you can easily buy it in any grocery store around Japan, but the traditional way is to put the freshly steamed rice into a huge wooden barrel and then pound it with a wooden mallet until it all forms together into a smooth, sticky rice cake. It’s such a physically intensive process that many men usually gather around and take turns pounding the mochi.
Even in Japan, it’s not everyday that you get to see mochi being prepared in the traditional style. Even rarer still is the opportunity to eat it fresh, within moments of being scooped out of the barrel.
They put large gobs of the mochi into bowls of hot soup with cooked radish, deep fried tofu, carrot, and onion and handed it out for free! Incredible 😀