Once upon a time, the Old Man of the Moon decided to visit the Earth. Disguised as a beggar, he came across three friends who lived together in the forest – Fox (Kitsune), Monkey (Saru) and Rabbit (Usagi) and asked them for something to eat. Monkey leapt up into the trees to gather fruit and nuts; Fox ran to a stream to catch a fish; these they presented to the old man. Rabbit raced around the forest grassland finding nothing but grass and returned forlorn to the teasing of his two friends. Desperate to help their visitor, Rabbit asked him to build a fire. Leaping into the flames, he offered himself to the old man to eat. Quickly the beggar changed back to his true form and pulled Rabbit from the fire, restoring him to life. He thanked each of the forest friends for their generous kindness but to Rabbit he said, “Your selfless sacrifice was the kindest of all. I will take you to the moon with me!” To this day, if you look up at the moon, you can see Rabbit there, pounding mochi in his mortar and pestle.
This is the story of Tsuki no Usagi (Moon Rabbit), told to me recently by a Japanese friend and related here in my own words.
The myth originated 2400 years ago in the Indian Buddhist Jātaka tales, stories about the previous lives of Buddha in both human and animal form. One such tale tells the story of a monkey, an otter, a jackal and a rabbit, similarly called upon to find food for a beggar. When the rabbit offered himself in the fire, the beggar revealed himself as a god and drew the likeness of the rabbit on the Moon for all to see.
As is often the case, the details of the story changed as it spread. In China, the rabbit pounds medicinal herbs to make an elixir of life for Chang’e, the Moon Goddess.
Only in Japan is Rabbit thought to pound rice for the creation of delicious mochi (rice cakes).
Short-grain japonica glutinous rice (known in Japan as mochigome) has a higher protein concentration and less amylose in its starch than other types of rice, which results in a soft but firm consistency – it is delightfully chewy, the gummy elasticity a highly prized texture.
Traditional mochi are made by pounding soaked and steamed mochigome into a smooth paste. The paste is formed into a variety of shapes, often with a filling of sweet azuki bean paste. In other variations, flavourings are mixed into the paste itself, and these days there are many different fillings to choose from. Mochi is enjoyed in many dishes, savoury and sweet; one of my personal favourites is mitarashi dango – solid balls of mochi served on a stick with a sweet-savoury soy sauce glaze.
Another popular sweet is mochi ice cream – a ball of smooth, delicious ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of chewy mochi. These are a relatively recent phenomenon, appearing for the first time in the early eighties but they have quickly gained popularity across Japan.
I first encountered Little Moons mochi ice creams two years ago, at a pop up dinner by United Ramen. Asking afterwards about the utterly gorgeous ice cream mochi dessert, I learned they were made by Little Moons, a fledgling company launched by entrepreneur siblings Howard and Vivien Wong. Several months later, I came across them again when I visited Kanada-ya ramenya just after they opened. Today, Little Moons are served by several Japanese restaurants across London including Bone Daddies, Tonkotsu and Shoryu Ramen. Ramenandmochitastic!
Howard and Vivien worked with Nobu’s head patisserie chef, Regis Cursan to develop their range, and have updated the new Japanese classic by using artisan gelato fillings in six flavours – currently Vanilla, Toasted Sesame, Coconut, Matcha Green Tea, Mango and Raspberry. Little Moons mochi are hand-rolled in London to the traditional Japanese method, and the range is free from artificial flavourings, colours or preservatives. The mochi are also gluten free and less than 100 calories per ball.
The Wongs have also created a second brand, Tsuki Mochi under which they sell mochi truffles. The Dark Chocolate ones are filled with Belgian chocolate ganache and dusted with cocoa. Tsuki Mochi also make a Yuzu Lemon Cheesecake edition which I must, as a yuzu addict, try soon!
Last weekend I hosted a lovely afternoon tea featuring all six Little Moons mochi ice creams and the Tsuki Mochi dark chocolate ganache mochi. We enjoyed these with some delicious Adagio Teas served in an absolutely beautiful Japanese teaware set with an elegant metallic grey finish.
The mochi ice cream were as good as I remembered (though I do miss the wonderful pineapple flavour I first fell in love with at the ramen pop up dinner). My favourites were the mango and the matcha, though I loved them all. Pete’s favourite was the toasted sesame – he also loved the flavour of the raspberry gelato but wasn’t sure it worked so well in a mochi wrapping. Our guests both favoured the rich vanilla, flecked with vanilla seeds, with the coconut and mango also winning high praise.
All four of us adored the mochi truffles – these had a superbly rich, dark chocolate flavour and a light mousse-like texture within.
On the tea front, we started with Adagio’s kukicha, a blend of green tea leaves and stems. The tea had a powerful aroma as it brewed, but was light and refreshing to drink. Later we switched to genmai cha, the nutty flavours of toasted popped rice were particularly satisfying on a cold November day.
Of course, mochi are far more than a sweet treat to enjoy with afternoon tea – they make superb desserts after a meal, particularly the mochi ice cream which are stored in the freezer and need just a few minutes to soften before serving. Although small, they are surprisingly filling and just one or two balls would be perfect after a meal.
Little Moons come in a box of six and are currently stocked by Whole Foods (£5.99) and Partridges (£6.95). Tsuki Mochi truffles come in a box of four and are available from Selfridges (£4.50).
Kavey Eats received product samples from Little Moons / Tsuki Mochi plus a Japanese teaware set and Adagio teas, to host a Japanese afternoon tea.
Please leave a comment - I love hearing from you!22 Comments to "Little Moons & Tsuki Mochi | A Japanese Afternoon Tea"
We’re playing blog comment tag Kavey! Such a lovely little story and these mochi look so delicious. I’ve had peanut mochi before but never ice cream. They look delicious and I love that little Japanese tea pot too.
Hey Alex, hope you’re well! I love the peanut and black sesame dumplings you can find on some Chinese dim sum menus, served hot – but only have them rarely as many of my friends don’t like them. I think ice cream is more universal, but even better with that elastic chewy wrapping! Yes, the teapot is just so pretty, perfect for enjoying our afternoon tea!
I don’t think that I have ever had these – which seems a huge shame and something that needs to be remedied!
They are very very good. You can get mochi and mochi ice cream at Japan Centre and other Japanese grocery stores but I have to say, the Little Moons ones really are superb!
I have never tried mochi before but having read this post I really would love to! The look so pretty and the flavours sound amazing. I think I will pop into Selfridges to find the truffles.
Oooh, I hope you can find them. Definitely try and get the ice cream ones as well as the truffle ones, they work so well. If you love that chewy elastic texture, hopefully you will love mochi. It reminds me a little of turkish delight, not in flavour of course, and much less sweet.
Ooh they all sound so delicious. I’ve never heard of mochi but will look out for them in future.
Ooh I hope you can find some, they are so delicious, if you like that soft, chewy, elastic texture as I do!
I’m a yuzu addict too. I like good mochi – they can be very variable in my experience. These sound spot on.
I think a yuzu ice cream one would be magnificent too but I guess since they have that flavour in the truffle, it’d be repetitive. I need to try that truffle one!
I love the sound of an ice cream afternoon tea. Can I be invited to the next one? The ice creams sound lovely
Heh, I’m keeping the rest for me! 😉 It was fun though and lovely delicious tea and mochi!
I LOVE MOCHI! I’ve had sesame, coconut, strawberry cheesecake and chocolate so far. These made me hungry xx
Aaw, sorry, but these are worth seeking out for sure!
These look fabulous Kavey… a perfect after-dinner treat over the festive season… I’ll have to see if I can source any up here in Newcastle.
I hope you can find some!
I have always wanted to try mochi but never have, after reading your post and the nice little story, this is now on top of my must try list for 2016! Thanks Kavey!
Thanks Prateek, glad you enjoyed the story – of course I researched and read more variations of the story and then wrote it afresh in my own words! I hope 2016 will be a year of mochi for you!
I’ve only had Mochi once and I struggled with the texture. Having read some of the comments perhaps they just weren’t good ones. I need to search them out at a very good Japanese place. GG
Mochi should be smooth, no lumps within it, and have an elasticity and chewiness to it, a bit like soft turkish delight in texture but not in taste. And of course, for the filled ones, the quality of the filling is key as well. I hope you can find these mochi delights and discover whether you like mochi after all!
I love Little Moons! It’s a tough call between the toasted sesame and the matcha as to which I like best but they’re all good!
Love your review,
They really are all good aren’t they? We’ve been having one or two each for dessert once or twice a week since the afternoon tea, and I’ll have to get some more in when they run out!