The pestle called "surikogi" is made of wood rather than clay and keeps the pestle from wearing down the ridges in the mortar. The traditional and less common pestle is made from the Japanese pepper tree (sansho) and the bark is left on the pestle. It is said that this pestle imparts a slight peppery flavor to the food it grinds. I think a case could be made to obtain this version simply for its natural beauty.
photo by gourmetsleuth: sansho surikogi with rough bark shaft
The Suribachi is originally from Southern China and was introduced to Japan between the eleventh and twelfth century. Prior to this time the common mortar was a stone implement. The tool was first used for preparing medicines, then later used for grinding flour and eventually for food preparation.
The suribachi became an indispensable kitchen tool in the Japanese home. According to Professor Koizumi Kazuko (an authority on Japanese implements and furnishings) the suribachi has played a significant role in history and development of Japanese cuisine.
The original use of the suribachi may have been to grind miso, and over the years many dishes were developed using the suribachi : goma-yogoshi (vegetables flavored with a sauce of seasoned, ground sesame), goma-miso (miso flavored with ground sesame), dengaku (sweetened miso sauce used to flavor toasted tofu), kinome-ae (dressing made with sansho sprigs), shira-ae (dressing made of tofu mixed with white sesame), tororo-jiru (grated tororo), tsumire (fish paste balls), denbu (shredded seasoned fish flakes) and kinoton (dumplings covered with ground sesame or soybean powder)." Source: (Translation by Nonaka Yuko, forthcoming in a joint English translation of Daidokoro no zukan, by Koizumi Kazuko, original publisher, Heibonsha,1998 )
Buy a surbachi online at GourmetSleuth.com. We sell three different styles.