See, We Told You Rice Cakes Are Dangerous
As was noted in a previous story, one of the most hazardous parts of the holiday season for Japanese are the days directly after New Years when pounded rice cakes known as mochi are consumed in great quantities. The Tokyo Fire Department is reported to have transported more than 17 people to the hospital, 2 of whom died, for mochi related asphyxiation this year.
Mochi is produced by a process of repeated pounding cooked rice until the rice is reduced to a glutinous mass that has a pleasing but deadly texture. Some mochi is filled with a sweet bean paste and served as a dessert but it is also served in a light soup in a traditional dish known as o-zoni. If it still seems odd that rice cakes could kill anyone, please watch this clip which really should double as a PSA from the Japanese food epic Tampopo.
Of course the dangers of mochi might be being blown out of proportion here. Much like deaths related to consuming hot dogs, a little bit of common sense can go a long way. One obvious way to avoid choking on mochi is to chew it carefully before trying to suck it down. If that's too complicated, or you're feeding it to a child or the elderly, it might be wise to use a scissor to cut the mochi into manageable size chunks prior to serving.
If someone does start choking on a mochi it appears that your best bet is to stick to the plan and summon help immediately before trying to rescue them. Fire fighters and paramedic teams have special suction devices which are designed specifically to suck foreign objects out of airways without poking a hole in anything important. That said, and we by no means endorse this, people have been known to successfully improvise in times of need.
But really, just chew your damn food people. We know mochi is delicious but it's not like it is laced with potent neurotoxins or anything.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.