Couple weeks ago, I almost killed the Papa Bear. Well, technically, the Papa Bear almost killed himself, but if he had met his untimely end at the time, I would have felt a little guilty...
One morning, there was no usual starch to be had for breakfast, and as all of you know, I am a regular breakfast girl and consider starches to be a vital part of breakfast. I snooped around in the fridge, looked behind various frozen goods in the freezer, and voila! I found some frozen mochi packages!
Mochi in the US is not quite the same as mochi in Japan. Mochi here is the sweet, often red-bean-powered dessert. Mochi in Japan is a neutral pounded blob of rice that can be sweet or savory, depending on how it is prepared. I personally prefer my mochi savory with soy sauce and sesame, wrapped around in nori seaweed.
As you can tell from this picture, mochi is gloopy and thick. Chewy is an understatement. But it's not in the least bit gummy or tough. It melts away as you munch on it, the pounded rice grains dissolving into saliva.
Mochi is usually a New Years treat, and families get together to pound the heck out of steamed mochi rice (a special kind of super-sticky rice) to make fresh, home-made mochi. These are even more delicate than the frozen kind and provide great pleasure during the battle between your teeth and the mochi, as the mochi gives in and dissolves into a wonderful blanket of texture and flavor.
But let me warn you. This is a battle, and sometimes, there are casualties. Every year, one or two elderly mochi consumers lose the battle and meet their makers. I'm not kidding. Ask any Japanese person about the New Years song about old people and mochi! They'll gladly sing you the jingle!
It's easy to see how the elderly can be more susceptible to mochi-induced suffocation. As you can see in this picture below, mochi has serious tenacity to remain one piece in an ameobia-like state. Those without strong jaws tend to underestimate this fact and they swallow prematurely. Mochi takes advantage of this, and sticks on to the throat mid-passage, shoving the walls of the esophagus (food pipe) into the trachea (air pipe). Double pipe blockage!
I was casually recounting this exact same explanation to the Papa Bear as he was chomping (or so I thought) on his mochi. As I'm finishing my sentence with, "and so the old people get mochi stuck in their throats and they die from suffocation," I hear a faint, "...like... now..."
I kid you not. The Papa Bear was BLUE in his face with tears in his eyes as he gagged and spat. I saw chunks of mochi flying out of his mouth with each forceful expulsion. I had the phone in my hand, fully prepared to call 911.
But luckily, the Papa Bear came back to life after a tense five minute sequence of sheer terror. Phew.
The dangers of mochi. Beware...