If you've ever had mochi (or manju), you'll know that you can't eat just one. Its contrast of light yet densely chewy texture and mild sweetness is filled with everything from the traditional red azuki or white lima bean paste, to green tea ice cream.
Japanese mochi is a small ping pong ball-sized dessert made from glutinous rice paste, molded into a round ball or cut into squares, and filled with, most traditionally, red or white bean paste. The exterior is dusted with a bit of rice flour to prevent sticking.
One of the only Bay Area Japanese confectionery shops left in the Bay Area, Shuei-Do Manju Shop in San Jose's Japantown has been making these treats the old-fashioned way by hand for over 60 years. You can find many traditional versions, along with some fun flavors like raspberry, coconut, and peanut butter (they're not available everyday, so call to find out what the flavors of the day are). The care and artistry of each piece comes through in every bite. The mochi exterior is soft, chewy, and dense, while the interior red bean filling is thick and sweet.
Shuei-Do Manju Shop is a San Jose treasure and has earned a devoted cult following. It's an even more popular destination in the summer because of their other specialty: Hawaiian shaved ice.
On the other end of the mochi scale is Mochicream. This popular Japanese chain calls itself a "Japanese Sweets Deli." They're doing for mochi what Pinkberry did for frozen yogurt, or Sprinkles for cupcakes.
Their only Northern California outpost is located inside the Japanese mini-mall, Mitsuwa Marketplace in San Jose. Daring mochi flavors like Caramel Macchiato, Cranberry, Blueberry Yogurt and Orange Cheese fill their immaculately arranged refrigerated glass cases.
I was surprised to learn that their sweets are made in Japan and then shipped fresh to the States, weekly. It’s not exactly homemade like Grandma would make.
And mochi, when filled with cream, can easily get soggy because of all the moisture. They've combated this problem by surrounding the cream fillings with white bean paste, creating almost a layer of insulation inside each mochi ball. This way, they're able to freeze these confections and ship them all the way out here without extensive damage to its flavor or texture. And they instruct you to let them "defrost" for about 15 minutes before diving in.
The mochi is soft, light and airy, but a bit of sogginess does indeed plague this international treat. But if you’re into mochi or are looking for something sweet that is a bit out of the ordinary, it’s definitely worth a try. The Apple Pie was my far and away favorite, with bits of apple pie filling and little pie crust crumbles to give it some real depth of flavor and surprising texture. My second favorite was the Darjeeling for its nice subtle yet distinct tea flavor that fortunately, wasn’t too sweet.
Whether you've tried mochi before or not, both these places offer up some great examples of this classic sweet Japanese treat.