Have a mooncake, or two, to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival
Festivals always seem to be associated with certain signature foods. Christmas is usually linked to the consumption of luxurious Christmas puddings, Easter with the devouring of hot cross buns and Thanksgiving with the partaking in lavish family feasts, which feature plump, succulent roast turkeys along with several other treats. Similarly, the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is celebrated all over the Far East in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, is associated with a calorie-laden but delightful delicacy called the mooncake.
The Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as the Chinese Lantern Festival) originated nearly 3,000 years ago, during the reign of the Shang Dynasty in China. The event was then christened as ‘Zhongqiu Jie,’ which translates to “Mid-Autumn Festival,” during the rule of the Zhou Dynasty. This festival, which was initially the domain of the Chinese Emperors who feted the moon as they prayed for a good harvest, gained much popularity under the Tang Dynasty and it went on to become an established festival under the Song dynasty.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is usually earmarked for the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, a day which usually occurs around late September or early October and is associated with the appearance of a glorious full moon. The Mid-Autumn Festival is due to be celebrated over three days in Hong Kong and Singapore this year, from the 29th of September to the 1st of October.
There are many legends associated with the celebration of the festival, though it is popularly believed that the practice of eating mooncakes came about during the time of the Mongol Yuan regime in China (1271-1368). The Han people resented the rule of the Mongols and the revolutionaries who were led by Chu Yuan-chang, and plotted to displace them. In order to unite the people to rise up against the Mongols, Liu Bo-wen, Chu’s advisor, devised a brilliant plan which entailed spreading a rumor that a plague was about to ravage the land. The rumor further stated that eating mooncakes could only avert this plague. The revolutionaries then went on to distribute mooncakes amongst the Han people, who on cutting open the cakes, found a concealed note that stated ‘Revolt on the fifteenth of the eighth moon.’ This message helped to unite the Han people who then, on that designated day, rose in rebellion to overthrow the Yuan. Since this incident, mooncakes which have come to symbolize unity and good fortune, have been integral to the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
During the festival, Chinese families adorn their homes with lanterns and invite friends and family for sumptuous dinners, which feature various mooncakes as dessert.The dining parties then venture out to parks or viewing points to admire the moon in all its glory. Other festivities associated with this harvest fete include the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance (in Hong Kong), lantern painting competitions and carnivals and holiday shopping bazaars everywhere else.
Mooncakes are traditional Chinese pastries which are usually round or rectangular in shape. These pastries, which resemble western fruitcakes, usually measure 10cm in diameter and consist of a thin outer pastry skin which is filled with a dense, sweet filling. Traditional mooncakes are filled with a paste made of lotus seeds and also feature a salted duck egg yolk. This salted egg yolk is said to symbolize the full moon. However, nowadays mooncakes, which are usually consumed along with cups of Chinese tea, also feature a wide variety of fillings like chocolate ganache and egg custard amongst others. These rich pastries are often adorned with various Chinese language characters that symbolize traditional good wishes like ‘harmony’ and ‘longevity’ and mooncakes are usually gifted amongst friends and business associates for the celebration of the festival.
The process of making mooncakes is very laborious and most people tend to buy them at bakeries and dessert stores, rather than attempt to make them at home. Many bakeries located in five star hotels all over the Far East also announce special mooncake offerings in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The Peninsula Hong Kong
The renowned Cantonese restaurant, Spring Moon at the Peninsula is especially well known for its delicate, handmade mooncakes, which are known to sell out within a day. For this year’s festival the restaurant estimates that it will produce 520,000 mooncakes.
Image courtesy: The Peninsula Hong Kong
The Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong
The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival of 2012 with the issue of two new mooncake editions, the Mini Egg Custard Mooncakes and the Mini Red Bean and Chestnut Mooncakes.
Image courtesy: The Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong
The Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong
The Kowloon Shangri-La’s Shang Palace Cantonese restaurant has announced a slew of delicious treats for the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The restaurant’s offerings include mini mooncakes filled with custard made with Sauternes sweet wine, mini crispy mooncakes filled with black truffle infused custard, mini pineapple paste mooncakes with mashed egg yolks and mini five kernels mooncakes with Parma ham. The restaurant also offers its traditional mooncakes, along with Oneness and Celebration cookies.
Image courtesy: The Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong
Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong
The Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, this year, in addition to the traditional white lotus paste and two egg yolks mooncakes, also has mooncakes filled with milk custard and moon cakes filled with green tea custard on offer.
Image courtesy: Grand Hyatt, Hong Kong
The Mira, Hong Kong
The Mira Hotel’s stylish café-patisserie Coco, offers a range of designer mooncakes for the festive season. Coco’s mooncakes feature fillings inspired by countries like China (Golden mandarin), France (La Rose), Japan (Matcha) and Thailand (Mamuang).
Image courtesy: The Mira, Hong Kong
The legendary Raffles hotel has this year introduced a new mooncake for the festival season, the Snow-Skin Banana Passion Mooncake , which is filled with paste made of bananas and passion fruit, enveloped by a smooth chocolate truffle. The hotel also offers its customary favorites, like the Baked Mooncake with Pine Nuts, Macadamia Nuts and White Lotus Paste , the Baked Mother of Pearl with Single or Double Egg Yolks and its best seller, the Snow-Skin Champagne Truffle and Ganache Mooncake.
Image courtesy: Raffles, Singapore
The Goodwood Park Hotel, Singapore
The grand Goodwood Park Hotel has added a few healthier options to its moon cake repertoire. The hotel now offers mooncakes stuffed with the goodness of Asian fruits, like the Red Orange with Banana Snowskin Mooncake (filled with red orange pulp and banana puree and bits), the olive green ‘Mao Shan Wang’ Snowskin Mooncake (filled with Mao Shang Wang durian), the Mango with Pomelo Snowskin Mooncake and the D24 Durian and Cempedak (a fruit similar to Jackfruit) Snowskin Mooncake.
Image courtesy: The Goodwood Park Hotel, Singapore
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Singapore
This year, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Singapore has also introduced new flavors of mooncakes along with its traditional offerings. On offer at the Mandarin Oriental, are mooncakes that feature fillings like Green Tea Paste and Japanese Plum Liquored Chocolate and a Snowskin mooncake filled with Red Date Infused Ganache. The hotel has also imparted a twist to its traditional moon cake recipe and now offers a triple layered moon cake that features Coconut Lotus paste, Egg Yolk and Black Sesame Paste.
Image courtesy: The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Singapore
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