Mochi Is Having a Moment: Here Are All the Best Treats to Try
So many of our favorite NYC food trends hail from Japan. First there were soufflé pancakes, followed by katsu sandos…and how could we forget kakigori? Now, a familiar dessert is finally claiming the spotlight it deserves: mochi.
A popular treat for centuries, the springy, squishy dough—typically made from glutinous rice that’s been pounded over and over again—is a New Year’s tradition, believed to bring good luck in the months ahead. And while it’s already pretty ubiquitous stateside as a fro-yo topping or in the form of bite-size ice cream, New York is finally seeing more of its delightfully chewy versatility, with new goodies popping up both on grocery-store shelves and at local bakeries.
Whole Foods rolled out its self-serve mochi ice cream bar in 2017, My/Mochi debuted pints of ice cream studded with mochi bits in 2018 and Trader Joe’s belatedly jumped on the bandwagon this year when it finally launched its own line of frozen desserts along with what may well be its best product of 2019, mochi cake mix.
As its name suggests, mochi cake—and its Hawaiian relative, butter mochi—embodies the best of both worlds with a slightly crunchy exterior and irresistible chewiness on the inside. And while the TJ’s cake mix seems to be scarce as of late (fingers crossed it’s not discontinued), New Yorkers who fell in love with mochi cake can still find it at the recently opened Ceremonia Bakeshop. Inspired by treats her mom used to make, owner and pastry chef Amy Batista offers two versions of the Hawaiian snack, one tinged deep purple by ube and another infused with the fragrant tropical herb pandan. “The flavors and the combination of crispy exterior and chewy center make it really unique,” says Batista.
Cha-An Bonbon’s Tomoko Yagi agrees. She holds the enviable title of wagashi (Japanese tea sweets) expert and thinks the renewed interest in the confection comes from its signature chew. She also points out that it’s often naturally vegan and gluten-free—two not-uncommon concerns in NYC. The team at Cha-An Bonbon, which specializes in wagashi, prepares mochi by hand daily, stuffing it with fillings like black sesame, Earl Grey-chocolate and matcha, or rolling the dough into balls for skewers of pastel-hued dango.
Another popular mochi hybrid has made its way to the Big Apple by way of Williamsburg’s new Win Son Bakery and Chinatown’s Alimama. Both cafés are serving—wait for it—mochi doughnuts. Win Son’s pastry chef Danielle Spencer rolls out a springy black sesame doughnut, while Alimama doles out versions you’ll want to Instagram ASAP. (Think brûléed, covered in edible gold dust or topped with Fruity Pebbles.) But Alimama’s true stars are the mochi munchkins: bouncy orbs of taro, matcha or royal milk tea–flavored dough that are fried to order.
For those who still prefer their mochi in frozen form, here’s some exciting news: Mochidoki, maker of artisanal mochi ice cream, will open its first brick-and-mortar storefront in Soho this fall. While Mochidoki’s menu includes some of the more traditional variations (matcha, mango, red bean), it’s the brand’s seasonal chef-driven specials that differentiate it from other mochi makers.
“From day one, I knew there could be endless possibilities to experiment and play with the flavor combinations of mochi ice cream,” says founder Ken Gordon. “It can be whimsical and fun—the perfect mess-free treat for children—as well as refined and sophisticated, even stylish.” For fall, that means a collaboration with Michelin-starred chef Michael Laiskonis on two new flavors: pumpkin and cookies, and black honey walnut.
The flavors may be trendy, but the ingredient list remains short. After all, as Gordon notes, “There’s beauty in the simplicity of mochi.”