Pillowy, Soft Mochi! The Two Neighboring Japanese Confectioneries: Sakura-Ya and Chikara Mochi

While we’ve tried freshly made Mochi (the Japanese Sweet made of Pounded Rice) at Sakura-Ya before, thanks to @MaladyNelson, we found out about Chikara Mochi, which was another old-school Mochi specialist that happened to be just a few stores down(!). It felt like a fun, relaxing, Mochi-type of a day, so off we went to explore Mochi. :slight_smile:

Chikara Mochi

Walking into Chikara Mochi, it is definitely slightly fancier than Sakura-Ya. And as soon as I laid eyes on the Mochi case, a giant smile formed across my face. :blush: These looked absolutely adorable! I had to order one of everything (and secretly wished I could just put them up for display at home), LOL. :grin:

Chikara’s Mochi are the result of Kinoe Itou, and are made fresh every day. It should be noted that although visually they look like very distinct flavors, fundamentally almost all of them are the same flavor - either a sweetened Red Bean or White Bean filling - with the soft pounded Rice on the exterior.

Goma - Black Sesame Seed - Mochi:

I was super excited to try this, hoping for Black Sesame flavors, but really it’s more for decoration. The Mochi exterior is soft, delicate and the Sweet Red Bean filling is smooth and sweet.

Kiku - Chrysanthemum - Mochi:

So cute! :slight_smile:

Momiji - Japanese Maple - Mochi:

The sweet White Bean filling is less sweet and more to my taste. The Rice exterior is still as soft and pliant as the previous ones. :slight_smile:

Ringo - Apple - Mochi:

So adorable! They add a subtle glaze on top to make it look like a polished “Apple” but really it’s still the same fillings as before.

Botan - Peony - Mochi:

Kaki - Japanese Persimmon - Mochi:

Another visually amazing Mochi, looking like a Persimmon. I wish they actually infused Persimmon into the Mochi.

Sakura Mochi:

This is one of the unique Mochi, and we were surprised they could still offer what is traditionally a Spring seasonal item during Autumn. Either way, it was OK, the Sakura leaf was noticeably salty, but it was balanced out by the Sweet Red Bean filling and the Rice.

Aka Tombo - Red Dragonfly - Mochi:

Peanut Butter Mochi:

One of the more unique offerings is their Peanut Butter Mochi. I was hesitant, but it works surprisingly well. Soft, delicate pounded Rice on the outside, and a dollop of Peanut Butter on the inside. :slight_smile: If they were able to use a more fresh-grounded Peanut Butter (obviously cost considerations factor in), this probably would’ve been amazing.

Matsutake - Matsutake Mushroom - Mochi:

So cute! Itou-san is clearly having fun with the season, and in honor of Fall, they have a Matsutake Mushroom-shaped Mochi! :slight_smile: There is (thankfully) no Mushroom flavor in this sweet, but visually it’s impressive. :slight_smile:

Uguisu - Japanese Bush Warbler - Mochi:

Named after a type of Japanese Bird, this is essentially their Kinako Mochi, with Roasted Soybean Powder adding a light nuttiness to the Mochi. This was delicious. :slight_smile:

Shiso Mochi:

This was a surprise: In the vein of Sakura Mochi, they have a seasonal release of using Shiso Leaves to wrap the Mochi! I love Shiso (Japanese Basil), but these have turned brown (oxidation?), and the flavor is strange. It’s pungent, and salted, and nothing like fresh Shiso, so I was slightly disappointed. :frowning:

Visually, Chikara Mochi has the most adorable and prettiest Mochi I’ve seen in So Cal. :slight_smile: The rice is delicate and they are quite good, much better than the Mochi offerings by mass produced places. Prices are very reasonable ranging from $1.60 - $2 each.

(Cash Only)

Chikara Mochi
16108 S. Western Ave.
Gardena, CA 90247
Tel: (310) 324-5256

Sakura-Ya

Just a few doors down from Chikara Mochi is an old-school Mochi specialist shop. We wanted to compare the flavors immediately after trying Chikara.

Run by the Fujita family, they’ve been making Japanese Mochi (Pounded Rice Sweets) by hand since 1960! :open_mouth:

Visually, after going to Chikara Mochi, there’s no comparison. Chikara have pretty, beautiful creations. Sakura-Ya is more humble, plain, rustic, but the most important thing is the taste. We couldn’t wait to try…

White Mochi (Sweet Azuki Bean Filling):

While Chikara Mochi already has a soft, delicate Mochi texture, there’s no comparison:

Like biting into a cloud, Sakura-Ya’s Mochi are SO FLUFFY! :blush: :grin:

I took it for granted, but having them back-to-back, it’s so much softer, pillowy and wonderful!

Kinako Mochi (Soy Bean Powder, Sweet Azuki Bean Filling):

Like our previous visits, the Kinako Mochi is even better. It’s still using freshly pounded Rice as a base, and filled with a sweet Azuki Bean filling, but the Kinako Powder on the outside gives a nice nutty flavor. :slight_smile:

So now you have fluffy clouds with a pleasing roasted nutty aroma! :slight_smile:

Pink Mochi (Sweet White Bean Filling):

The Pink Mochi has a sweet White Bean filling, instead of Azuki (Red) Beans. Like at Chikara, I think I like the Sweet White Bean filling more.

Green Mochi - Yomogi (Japanese Mugwort) Flavored Rice with Smooth Red Bean Filling:

I was curious how pronounced the Yomogi might be, but it was very faint. Still as consistent as the others, though, with a wonderful mouthfeel. :slight_smile:

I can’t believe they sell for only $1.40 each.

So between the two, I think @MaladyNelson’s assessment was perfect: Go to Chikara Mochi for pretty Mochi (and for gifts to others), and go to Sakura-Ya for the best tasting Mochi. :slight_smile:

Chikara Mochi aren’t “bad” at all, they are quite good! It’s soft, delicate and tasty. But beyond the visuals, I think we’d rather eat the more rustic, humble-looking Mochi from Sakura-Ya. The filling is less sweet, and the outside Mochi is just superior: Supremely FLUFFY! :heart:

(Cash or Check Only)

Sakura-Ya
16134 S. Western Ave.
Gardena, CA 90247
Tel: (310) 323-7117

Update:

Thanks to the reminder from @A5KOBE, we stopped by Fugetsu-Do in Little Tokyo, to see how the oldest of the Japanese Confectioneries in L.A. compared. Founded in 1903(!), walking in to Fugetsu-Do had a charming, old-timey feel to the place. :slight_smile:

Current owner and Mochi maker Brian Kito represents the 3rd generation of the family that has been running Fugetsu-Do since his grandfather Seiichi Kito opened it up in Little Tokyo in 1903.

We ordered 8 of the most enticing looking Mochi / Manju on display: :slight_smile:

Green Tea Manju:

Manju is usually made with Flour, Rice Powder and with a filling of Red Bean (or White Bean), and we were intrigued (I love Green Tea!). The Manju was just OK. It tasted like a denser, chewier version of Dim Sum’s Charsiu Bao, like a Steamed Bun. The filling had a slight Green Tea tinge, but really was very sweet from the Red Bean.

Ume Manju:

This was Manju that supposedly had Ume (Japanese Plum) mixed in with the Red Bean, which sounded wild. This was also hampered by the dryish, dense Manju outside, but the Plum mixture - slightly tart - helped balance out the Sweetened Red Bean filling a bit.

Red Bean Daifuku:

This is like Mochi but it’s chewier, with the focus on the pounded Rice. The Sweetened Red Bean filling however was really sweet. It was nice, and slightly chewier than the standard Mochi.

Kusa (Red Bean) Mochi:

Their classic Mochi (with Sweetened Red Bean) has a delicate, soft texture, with the rice exterior being more pliant and not as chewy as the Daifuku.

But in terms of delicate, pillowy-ness, Sakura-Ya is by far better, with Fugetsu-Do 2nd, and Chikara Mochi 3rd.

Kiku (White Bean) Mochi:

The White Bean filling is also just as over-sweet as the Red Bean at Fugetsu-Do. Our friends didn’t mind, but I felt in terms of Sugar content, Sakura-Ya was less sweet (better), with Chikara Mochi 2nd and Fugetsu-Do 3rd.

Habutai (Red Bean) Mochi:

This was their classic Mochi with Sweetened Red Bean, with the white rice exterior. It tasted pretty close to the Kusa.

Uguisu (Red Bean) with Kinako Mochi:

This is their take on the Toasted Soy Bean Powder Mochi. While the Kinako was wonderful, their overly sweet filling detracted from the Mochi for us.

Strawberry Anco Mochi:

While it’s spelled “Anco” on their display, this is essentially their Anko (Red Bean) filling which is much smoother than their chunkier version in some of the Mochi.

It is also a newer fusion flavor, catering to the younger generation perhaps, with a real Strawberry Jam-like taste, mixed in with the Anko itself. It was different, kinda fun, but also a bit too sweet.

One of the nicest aspects is what @A5KOBE mentions about their gift-wrapping. They feature Free Gift Wrapping when you buy their Mochi, and it’s definitely the nicest presentation out of all 3 places (to give as gifts):

Ranging from $1.25 - $1.50 for each sweet, Fugetsu-Do is right in line with the other 2 places.

In thinking back on all 3 Confectioneries now, I’d have to say:

Taste:

  1. Sakura-Ya
  2. Chikara Mochi
  3. Fugetsu-Do

Sakura-Ya has the perfect combination of amazing pillowy, cloud-like fluffiness, and is less sweet than the other 2 places, especially their White Bean filling. That combination makes the overall taste our favorite. Fugetsu-Do would’ve been 2nd if they used less Sugar, but it was just too sweet for us.

Texture:

  1. Sakura-Ya
  2. Fugetsu-Do
  3. Chikara Mochi

Just in terms of pounded rice, softness and feel, Sakura-Ya is first, and Fugetsu-Do was better than Chikara.

Visual Artistry (“Plating”):

  1. Chikara Mochi
  2. Fugetsu-Do
  3. Sakura-Ya

Just visually, Chikara has the most beautiful, creative, fun Mochi to wow yourself and friends & family. Fugetsu-Do has some interesting looking ones as well, but also has plain ones. Sakura-Ya may not have the pretty exterior, but they more than make up for it in overall Taste & Texture. :slight_smile:

Variety / Flavors:

  1. Fugetsu-Do
  2. Chikara Mochi
  3. Sakura-Ya

Fugetsu-Do had the most varieties & offerings (they also had a Blueberry-flavored Mochi(!), besides the other flavors like Green Tea and Ume). However, we felt that they were undermined by the excessive Sugar content in their fillings. :frowning:

But ultimately, all 3 places are much better than the typical “Mochi” you might find prepackaged in supermarkets, etc.They are wonderful places to visit when you get a chance. :slight_smile:

Fugetsu-Do
315 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel: (213) 625-8595

http://www.fugetsu-do.com/

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Nice stuff @Chowseeker1999

How are these compared to Fugetsu-Do peanut butter mochi?

You knocked this out of the ballpark, @Chowseeker1999! Maybe the best tactic is to follow your lead and buy a small sampling from each shop, so you can admire Chikara’s unparalleled artistry and revel in Sakura-Ya’s delicious wagashi (Japanese sweets).

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Hi @A5KOBE,

I haven’t tried the Peanut Butter at Fugetsu-Do before LOL. I’ll put it on my list of things to do. :wink: Thanks.

Hi @MaladyNelson,

Thanks. :slight_smile: Yah, they’re only a few doors down from each other, but definitely give both a try and see which one you like more. :slight_smile:

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I swear that the Sawtelle Nijiya once had Sakura-Ya mochi a few yrs a back. I bought a pack and that they were the most delicious filled mochi I’ve ever had (so delicate, fluffy, and soft). I’ve never seen them again there. :frowning: Maybe I should visit the shop itself… :wink: Great report.

Oh, okay. Just a heads up, I liked the Fugetsu-Do way more than Mikiwaya, and Fugetsu-Do is way less in price. Also, Fugetsu-Do lady wraps the boxes up so amazing. hahaha, she is like a gift wrapping ninja.

I am in South Bay sometimes so I’ll check these spots out. My Japanese side of my family loves getting manju/mochi and I don’t ever recall them saying anything about these places, despite my family living in Gardena before. haha They have always gone to Fugetsu-Do for some reason. Weird.

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You probably know this already but let me blather for those who might not. The gift wrapping ninja is from the old school. Not that younger generations don’t do it (they definitely know of it), but that practice is engrained in the psyche of those who were less modernized/westernized. Presentation is so frickin’ essential etiquette in this culture that not to enhance the gift, purchase or meal - what ever - with some form of wrap is almost insulting.

My first visit to Japan as a kid took me to a whole different world. The deh-paah-toh (department stores) were a shopper’s fantasy, and still are for the most part. Far more elevated in style and service than their US counterparts, I could not believe how shoppers were truly treated as guests.

I was only concerned about the mini-amusement parks that were on the rooftops of every deh-paah-toh (de rigueur back then - far more kids pre-90s). But the whole culture of being formally greeted at the entrance, being served so politely, and having all purchases wrapped in paper emblazoned with the store logo was expected by both customer and store. The ninja-ness which the sales women would wrap these purchases was amazing.

Counters that sell nothing but furoshiki - the precious cloth that is used to wrap and tie more formal gifts and bento - were common as well.

This practice evidently goes back to the Silk Road days, to protect fragile objects on the long arduous journeys that so many goods had to make. So presenting something in the furoshiki implies that whatever is being presented to the recipient is showing honor and respect to that person.

Fugetsu-do is the oldest survivor of old school Nikkei retailers in LA. I think they’ve just carried on this wrapping tradition because that’s the way they started and that is the way it will always be. I think if they were to stop doing so, it would represent and perceived as a major change in the way they view tradition.

I would guess that the Japanese side of your family goes back at least to post-WWII. J-town was the center of all things Japanese at that time for most Nikkei, and continued to be so probably until more businesses opened around the South Bay and West LA areas that catered to those local Nikkei.

My parents would always travel from the Westside to J-Town to get their formal wagashi at Fugetsu-do. It was the long-standing provider of mochi and manju, and the label with its name (I think) provided a sense of familiarity and tradition, which was so important to a group that was still being chastised by the majority of those who continued to view them as below acceptance.

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That is some nice info. My whole family says J-Town. Hahaha

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MIkayawa (at least taste-wise) is totally average, IMHO. It kills me that they seem to be… EVERYWHERE (even in grocery stores in the freezer section).

Hi @paranoidgarliclover,

Interesting. That would be cool if Nijiya carried Sakura-Ya Mochi. Definitely give their store a visit though. So good, and not too far from the Westside. :slight_smile:

Mikawaya is available everywhere because they make their Wagashi by machine. Fugetsu-Do’s Wagashi is handmade.

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Thanks for the info. I assume that also explains the diff in quality…

I don’t know when Mikawaya started making their Wagashi by machine, but I’ve always preferred Fugetsu-Do.

Speaking of Japanese pastries is anyone making Castella (Kasutera) cake in house? I’m tempted to just make it myself but I don’t have the wooden frame to bake it in. My favorite with coffee or tea!

Hi @aaqjr,

Good question! Maybe @bulavinaka or @MaladyNelson might know if Patisserie Chantilly has it? We’ve only been there once I think and it was amazing. Didn’t pay attention to Kasutera.

I know Chantilly’s Cakes are amazing though! :blush: (fantastic Birthday cake)

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The Torrance branch of J Sweets (the wagashi store) in the Mitsuwa shopping center often carries Castella, but it’s made in Japan and shipped over, @aaqjr @Chowseeker1999. I haven’t seen it made in-house in the Greater LA area yet. However, I do believe that the Paris Baguette chain makes their own Castella in-house. You might call one of their stores. I can’t vouch for the quality though, since it’s been almost a decade since I last shopped there.

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I know I read or heard of some place making it in SoCal - just can’t remember where - sorry! I’d go with Malady’s rec.

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Thanks, maybe I’ll check out Paris Baguette first!

Is that absolutely essential? I’ve never tried to make it myself, but I imagine it’s got a texture similar to a chiffon cake? In which case an angel-food pan might work well?