For three days at the start of the new year, the Konko Church of Portland (1330 SE 92nd Ave., konkofaith.org/church/konko-church-of-portland) in Montavilla turns into a veritable mochi factory.
In the Japanese culture, the new year is a big deal, and mochi—the sweet, squishy, rice-based treat—is seen as a harbinger of good fortune. The more mochi you eat, the more good luck for the year ahead.
Reverends Lisa and Andrew Uzunoe, along with Lisa’s mother, started the tradition of making mochi for their congregation on New Year’s Eve over 35 years ago. The orders got bigger every year, and their production grew to include several varieties made with yomogi herb, roasted black bean and red bean filling.
The mochi eventually became so popular that, in 1984, the Northeast Portland Japanese grocery Anzen started placing regular orders. After the store closed in 2014, the Uzunoes signed a contract with Uwajimaya in Beaverton. Moving to a bigger establishment, outside the city, necessitated coming up with a brand name.
“We thought about ‘Mochi, Mochi!’ or ‘Konko Mochi,’ until my mother said, ‘It’s my mochi!’” says Lisa. “So, in the spirit of Grandma’s Cookies, we go by Bachan’s Mochi,” bachan being the Japanese colloquial term for grandmother.
Now, in the final days of the year, the Uzunoe family and a handful of church volunteers and their kids head to the church’s kitchen around 4 am and produce more than 2,000 pounds of the gummy treats, which they make available for preorder through the church. The freshly cooled packs of mochi sell out so fast that deliveries to Uwajimaya have to be staggered throughout the day.
Outside of late December, a more modest batch heads to the store’s deli every second Saturday of most months. It’s available by 10 am—but if you want a taste, it’s suggested you don’t dally.