The nugget effect: 'imo-mochi' (Japanese sticky potato cake) & memories of the Victorian Goldfields
29 May 2020; photography: April 2019 in Clunes, Maryborough, Talbot and Melbourne, Victoria
Travelling through the Goldfields region of central Victoria in the autumn of 2019 (it seems such a long time ago in light of the recent COVID-19 lockdown), I quickly realised that this was POTATO country as we drove past many a roadside stall stacked full of newly harvested potatoes. Given my background as a geologist and environmental scientist, I recognised that the deep red soils derived from the relatively young volcanic rocks, which mantle the ancient gold-bearing bedrock in parts of the Goldfields, would provide an ideal substrate for growing potatoes.
Central Victorian Goldfields architecture at Clunes (left), Maryborough (middle) and Talbot (right)
Potatoes are one of the many crops originating in the Andes of South America. Grown by the Inca civilisation for possibly over 10,000 years, it was introduced by the Spanish to Europe in the early 16th century. The Dutch brought the humble potato to Japan in the late 16th century via what is now Indonesia—in fact, the word for potato in Japanese, ‘Jagaimo’, is derived from ‘Jacatra’, one of the many old names for Jakarta, combined with ‘imo’, the Japanese word for tuberous root crops.
The word ‘mochi’ is generally associated with sticky cakes made from rice or rice flour. However, a number of traditional recipes exist in regional Japan for ‘mochi’ that are prepared using potatoes and sweet potatoes (another South American crop)—collectively known as ‘imo-mochi’. In the cold climates of Hokkaidö and Töhoku in northern Japan, imo-mochi tends to be made with potatoes, while in the warmer southern areas such as Kyūshū and Shikoku, sweet potatoes dominate.
I came up with the following recipe (see link at the bottom of the page) during my travels in the Victorian Goldfields last year, based on some of the regional imo-mochi recipes from northern Japan. Combining fantastic locally grown potatoes with organic wheat flour, and glutinous rice flour readily available from Asian grocery stores, the result is a satisfying, slightly sticky potato cake that is quite different from the Western-style potato cakes such as rösti and hash brown. Using butter or coconut oil for pan-frying not only adds a great aroma, but seems to help in preventing the mochi from getting stuck to the pan during baking.
Imo-mochi is versatile, either as a stand-alone item for snacks or canapé, or as an accompaniment to your meal dishes including meats, seafood or vegetables in Japanese, Asian or Western-style meals. They pair very well with miso-based pastes, or sauces such as soy, chilli and Worcestershire.
On a chilly autumn night in a cabin at a small caravan park in the Victorian Goldfields, the imo-mochi were a real treat, brushed with a punchy sweetened miso-based paste, topped with aromatic pink peppercorns from South American pepper trees (Schinus molle) that are widely naturalised on the Goldfields—an interesting aside is that the trees seem to be found in particular abundance wherever my wife’s forebears lived, upon their arrival in the Victorian Goldfields during the 19th century. And naturally, the meal was washed down with some (too much?) local Shiraz wine…
The marriage of regional Australia and Japan at its best, don’t you think?
We, at Deeply Regional Japan, believe in supporting regional areas of Australia in the same way we are passionate about supporting regional Japan. Given the devastating effects of the recent drought, bushfires and COVID-19 outbreak, regional Australia needs your support—whether through tourism or purchasing regional produce. For more information on visiting the Victorian Goldfields region, the following websites provide a good starting point: https://www.goldfieldsguide.com.au/, https://www.travelvictoria.com.au/regions/goldfields/, https://www.myguidemelbourne.com/regionalinfo/the-goldfields-of-victoria