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Mochi and Family at Two Ladies Kitchen

By Martha Cheng

Two Ladies Kitchen is a misnomer. It’s more like a ten lady church social, with women spanning three generations gossiping in the center of the room, while the more reticent, outnumbered men hug the edges. But as they talk and laugh, their hands are shaping hundreds of the soft mochi that neighbor island visitors love to bring back as omiyage for friends and family at home.

Nora Uchida and her mother, Sachiko Kishimoto, own Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo, which for 14 years has been producing fresh, handmade mochi in traditional and seasonal flavors, in a range of pastel colors and various smooth and dimpled shapes. Uchida learned the traditional style of mochi-making from her aunt. “I’m the only niece,” she says, “and I wanted to learn before the art was lost.”

Nora Uchida (left) and her workers knead, color and shape mochi around balls of tsubushi-an.

While she talks, she pinches off a piece of mochi and slips it in  her mouth. She probably doesn’t even realize she does it; it’s become a habit, as she works, like chewing gum. You’d think, though, after 14 years of making mochi, Uchida would be sick of it. But she’s neither sick of eating the mochi, nor of working in the kitchen. “It’s hard work, but it’s really fun,” she says. “We have a lot of good workers. It’s really like one big family. Our mochi makes a lot of people happy.”

The happy people she’s referring to are the customers, who are flooding the tiny front counter, but she could have been talking about the employees as well. They work methodically, their hands working to pinch and smooth pieces of mochi around balls of their homemade tsubushi an (azuki bean paste) or shiro an (lima bean paste). Truthfully, they’re probably not there because they love mochi so much, but as friends and family of Uchida, they were originally roped into helping in the kitchen on their days and hours off. But they come back to help because they love the camaraderie, the family that’s been built around this little shop. Kishimoto, the 83-year-old other “lady” of Two Ladies Kitchen,Mochi7-1
Pink: Brownie Mochi, Green: Tsumami Mochi (filled with tsubushi-an), Purple: Sweet Potato Mochi
laughs at the idea of retiring, as if standing on her feet all day shaping mochi was exactly what she envisioned for her later years. And why not? If the point of retirement is to spend more time with friends and family, then she’s doing it. “Uncle” Jimmy’s in the corner, watching over the towers of steaming mochi on the stove, and the younger workers, like adopted family, call her Grandma, and tease her. “Careful,” they warn, “she’s sassy.”

In many aspects, Two Ladies Kitchen is more like a social club than a business. When asked how many mochi they produce a day, it’s as if Uchida’s never considered the question. “I have no idea,” she says with surprise. “We get orders, and we just fill mochi day by day.” Even the current economic situation doesn’t seem to get her down. “No one can escape it,” she says. “We just take whatever comes.”

She does worry, though, that the mochi tradition will end with her, as she has only sons. While the art of mochi has been preserved by the women in the family, Uchida harbors a faint hope that her sons will return from the mainland someday to keep the shop open. But if not, there’s also the other younger generation of workers who help out in the kitchen, who like Kishimoto, may never want to retire.

The Two Ladies Kitchen ohana


Comments from Readers

  1. D41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e
    Alychee on 4/9/2009 at 3:51pm

    My sister read about Two Ladies Kitchen when the family came out to visit last Fall and thankfully we were able to swing by and try their famous strawberry mochi! We didn't know what to expect and my sister took the first bite - the expression (of delight) on her face was just great! We devoured the box quickly! Need to go back to Hilo and get some more...

  2. 4deae15b803f4ca1474303fa8aea9ffb
    Bev Jim On on 6/24/2009 at 12:27pm

    Can you give me the menu for ordering moichi? I will be coming on Friday--do I need to preorder the moichi (strawberry) (ane)?

  3. D41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e
    Martha on 6/24/2009 at 10:43pm

    I don't have the menu, but you can give them a call at 808.961.4766 to preorder. Lucky you!

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