In the US, we mostly think of Mochi as a tasty and chewy coating that goes around a ball of red bean paste or ice cream, but in Japan, the rice-based treat is often eaten hot, right off the grill and is considered to be a traditional dish that is a symbol of longevity. That is why it is more than a little ironic that each New Year’s seems to come with at least one mochi-related death in the country.
In the US, our standard holiday food deaths are usually tied to Thanksgiving and our primal need to deep fry turkeys, but in Japan, they would rather choke on blocks of rice. Mochi is considered as a symbol for longevity because it can be very stretchy when eaten in blocks. So, while it is suppose to promote living a longer life, people with bad teeth end up taking too much into their mouth at once and choking on it.
On this past New Year’s day alone, 2 people between the ages of 55 and 90 were killed when they choked to death on the delicious treat.
So let this be a warning to you! If you plan on celebrating the new year with some traditional Japanese mochi, for God’s sake, remember to chew!