“Bekomochi”, Japanese sweets eaten in Hokkaido on Boy’s Festival
May 5th is Japanese Boy’s Festival. “Kashiwamochi” or “Chimaki” are the food eaten commonly throughout Japan on that day, but “Bekomochi” is the standard in Hokkaido. What is Bekomochi? I went to “Marui Sakaemochi Honten” in Hakodate to find out about Bekomochi.
The long-standing wagashi confectionary store established in 1900▲The owner Hideaki Sato. His work is so professional but his personality is very friendly.
“Marui Sakaemochi Honten”, located in the west area of Hakodate City, was established in 1900. This wagashi confectionary store is loved by people from inside and outside Hakodate for 116 years, surviving the Great Fire of Hakodate and World War II. The current owner Hideaki Sato is the fourth generation.
“During Meiji era. Hakodate was the largest city further north of Tokyo. Since mochi was the essential food for celebrating occasions, there used to be many mochi stores in Hakodate. I remember many specialty stores are around here, but not all of them survived until today. ”
▲The name of “Sakaemochi” can be found in the 1933 old map (reproduced).
The rice flour grind from non-waxy rice and waxy rice and red bean paste are homemade. The pieces of equipment became electrical gradually, but the important equipment which affects the taste very much have not changed, for example, the sieve made from bamboo. They protect the traditional taste by following the basic practice and lavishing labor. Their mochi looks plain but delicate sweetness and chunky texture make us satisfied. Their mochi wagashi products are something like that.
▲Dango which can taste the deliciousness of rice is also recommended! All the jams put on dango are homemade, too. Sesame jam is made from half white and half black which makes it very aromatic. Soy sauce dango uses kelp dashi to produce the deep flavor.
What is Bekomochi?Bekomochi, a kind of mochi type wagashi eaten on Japanese Boy’s Festival in Hokkaido, uses rice flour and sugar mainly. This mochi does not stretch like Daifuku, nor contains red bean paste inside. Bekomochi is very simple and plain but people never be jaded. It is said that Bekomochi originally came from Tohoku area, but the standard in Hokkaido nowadays is this leaf shape. The color is black (dark brown) and white or just black. The blackish dark brown color comes from brown sugar.
▲The picture here shows leaf shaped black colored Sakaemochi’s Bekomochi. The pale color is unique.
Bekomochi has lots of mysterious characteristics. One of them is the origin of the name “Bekomochi”. Various opinions exist, but some of them are…
- Because the color is transparent brown from brown sugar, it looks like “Bekkou (tortoiseshell)”, so the name became “Bekkou mochi” to “Bekomochi”.
- The color looks like Japanese wagyu from brown sugar, so the word “Beko” which means cow in Hokkaido language, became the name for “Bekomochi”
- Using two colors black and white looks like Holstein, so the word “Beko” which means cow in Hokkaido language, became the name for “Bekomochi”
The opinion 1 is a bit suspicious. Because “Bekkou” used to be very expensive and mochi was rather for ordinary people. The opinion 2 is strong but if you look at the history closer (I will explain later), this opinion becomes suspicious, too.
Black and white Bekomochi is pretty common nowadays, so I hear a lot of people supporting the opinion 3. However, Sapporo Agricultural College (Hokkaido University today) started cultivating Holstein in early 1887 and became popular to ordinary people from the late Meiji era. Bekomochi existed before that so this opinion is suspicious, too.
“The opinion I heard from other people and I think strong is that the word came from ‘Beiko’ which means rice flour. At the time rice was precious, the crushed pieces of rice were not trashed after rice cleaning. They were ground and changed into mochi at each house to not make leftovers of rice. I think this ‘Beiko mochi’ has changed to ‘Bekomochi’”, says Mr. Sato.
▲The shiny Bekomochi is always waiting for customers at Sakaemochi.
I see! This opinion is understandable. The distinct origin is unclear because Bekomochi did not start as a product for business, it started as a home cooking. As Bekomochi is sold throughout the year, Bekomochi is demanded and has been the food loved by many people in the Hakodate area for a long time.
▲Bekomochi I found at a Michi-no-Eki, “Misogi-no-sato Kikonai” had different shape and color from the standard nowadays but uses the same ingredients.
On the other hand, Bekomochi like this can be found in the south part and Japan Sea side of Hokkaido. It is said that the origin of these mochi is “Kujiramochi” came from Aomori Prefecture. Kujiramochi has a semicircular shape. The large part of mochi is cut in round slices like Kintarou candies and steamed. Even design and color are different, they are all called “Bekomochi” so the opinion which Bekomochi came from “Beiko” (rice flour) becomes stronger.
There are some areas in Hokkaido that call these Bekomochi as Kujiramochi. Even those mochi has the same origin, the name and shape changed gradually in each area.
I could not find out why people in Hokkaido eat Bekomochi on Japanese Boy’s Festival in the research this time. However, mochi was widely eaten for celebrating occasions, so custom to eat mochi to celebrate children’s growth may have been left. The world surrounded by Bekomochi is so mysterious!
The taste of Sakaemochi’s Bekomochi is very gentleSakaemochi’s Bekomochi is made with the traditional recipe. Make the syrup with brown sugar and white sugar. Make the dough with the rice flour grind from non-waxy rice or waxy rice. Make the shape of leaf and stem slowly. The finished Bekomochi has the chewy texture and gentle sweetness of brown sugar.
▲Bekomochi before steamed
“Our job is not complicated but we can’t get away with anything. Customers will notice even the slight laziness. Rinse the rice properly. Naturally dry the rice and take care to keep the good flavor of the rice. Grind only the amount needed for the day. I must do everything properly. I have a sort of confidence that I am selling the culture”.
Bekomochi which Mr. Sato made is extremely delicious on the day of purchase of course, but I also recommend to eat on the next day after roasting them slightly. Bekomochi does not keep for long, so they have delivery service to other parts of Japan.
Text / Hokkaido Likers writer Yuki Konishi
Photograph / Hokkaido Likers photographer Minako Takada