I've only tried mochi a few times, and that's been as a dessert at Japanese restaurants. They usually arrive too cold and with the bite of freezer burn. Needless to say, I haven't been a big fan.
So, of course, I had to get my happy butt over to Two Ladies Kitchen in HIlo, which is reputed to have the best mochi in the islands.
Mochi are dumplings (see, I'm predisposed to like them!) made from a glutinous rice dough, filled with various types and combinations of sweet pastes. These are traditionally made from beans, but some of the mochi at Two Ladies also have chocolate, peanut butter, or marshmallows.
Two Ladies is a tiny storefront, but the back kitchen looked quite large.
There was a lovely display of pale, pillowy mochi sitting out. I had no idea what I was looking at.
There had been a giant banner out front proclaiming "We Have Strawberry Mochi!" so I figured that was a god place to start. But I wanted to try an assortment, too, so I got one of those lovely boxes in the above picture.
It took almost a half-hour to put my order together, because they were actually making the strawberry mochi while I stood there.
I drove my five pounds of mochi back to the hotel, totally excited. I wanted to eat them all! (I guess on top of being excited, I was a bit hungry.)
Aren't these beautiful? So much prettier than a box of chocolates!
The strawberry mochi were freaking yooge.
I wasn't really sure what to expect. It turned out that the beautifully al dente glutinous rice dough was folded around a whole, perfectly fresh strawberry and a generous schmear of tsubushi-an, a condiment made from mashed, boiled adzuki beans. The combination was simple and stunning - sweet, a bit earthy, the toothiness of the dough yielding to the bean puree and then the juicy strawberry. Gaaahhhh. I can definitely see why these things are so popular.
We also dug into the pie crust manju, because the counter girl at Two Ladies had insisted that I get a combo that included one of them. Not my favorite - it was filled with a light yellow shiro-an, which was much grainier and drier than the tsubushi-an. Plus, it didn't have my new love, the mochi dough!
Then I grabbed another dainty white flower-shaped mochi that was filled with a dab of peanut butter and a bunch of bean paste. It was really good, but not like those strawberry mochi!
Totally delicious, definitely fun. It's so tempting to order everything, though!
Two Ladies' Kitchen (no website) is at 274 Kilauea in Hilo. 808.961.4766. It's probably a good idea to order ahead - I hear I kinda lucked out.