New Year's culinary traditions can be fun, especially if they include eating Hoppin' John or tailgating at the Rose Bowl. In Japan, the traditional New Year's food is mochi, the little glutenous rice cakes that are served in soup this time of year, and they can be a bit more dangerous than you would think. So far at least half a dozen people in Japan have choked to death eating them. The victims, all of whom were between the ages of 70 and 95, suffocated after getting pieces of the rice cakes stuck in their throats over the weekend. Another 18 people are still hospitalized, with five in serious condition.
According to the Guardian, mochi fatalities are not uncommon this time of year, and Japanese fire departments routinely issue warnings and suggest that small children and the elderly only consume mochi that has first been cut into small pieces. A piece of advice that many people apparently ignore.
If you do get mochi stuck in your throat — and the Heimlich doesn't work — there is even a company that sells a vacuum with an attachable nozzle for sucking out the offending mochi (See Tampopo.) What to put on your Christmas wish list next year, I guess.