Thursday, October 01, 2009

Mid-Autumn Festival

On October the third (15th day of the eight month in the Chinese calendar) we celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival, the second most revered and commercialized Chinese festivals, right after Chinese Lunar New Year. Two key elements marks this celebration; mooncakes and lanterns.

When we were kids we used to get together at grandma's house and 'play' lanterns with our cousins. Note that in my childhood, there were no 'battery-operated' lanterns, only real 'candle-operated' paper types. By 'play' what we actually do is light up the lanterns , walk around the neighbourhood and then set fire to all of them and dance around the bonfire in glee. Why set fire to the lanterns? Well, keep it in good minty condition and you can dash any hopes of getting a bigger and better one next year. Of course, before the 'lantern walkathon', we cousins engage in the customary 'who has the nicest biggest lantern' routine. We also arrange lit candles on just about every surface we can find, potted plants, fence, curb of the streets.

The next morning there will be ear-pulling and long sermons about leaving stale candle wax stumps all over the potted plants and driveway. But we do it again, year after year after year. The adults are way too busy watching Hong Kong serials while sipping tea and eating mooncakes indoors to bother much about we do anyway.

Now that I'm in my thirties, we've done away with lanterns. I don't think the younger children get to roam around the streets much as well, in view of the deterioration of public safety over the years. I suppose parents just get them battery-operated lanterns in shapes of Disney Princesses or Ben 10 and they play within their condo or gated community compound. Or maybe now kids send virtual lanterns on facebook, who knows right?

What I find most interesting about the evolution of this festival is the mooncake, we will get to that in a while after this introduction. Mooncakes are sweet baked delicacies made from lotus paste, sunflower seeds and occasionally with a salted egg yolk for that savory flavor. The roundness signifies the moon and I guess the sweetness and stickiness symbolizes family unity. For more on the history and myhtical stories behind the Mid Autumn Festival, Wiki here.

I make it a point to buy a box of mooncake for mum every year as the festival approaches. She loves those sickeningly sweet cakes. I don't find them particularly healthy and the cloying sweetness can really get to you so I usually avoid them , or worse, I'll dig out the precious salted egg yolk from the centre and secretly dispose of the rest. Anyway, I was One Utama two weeks back and they had a 'mooncake fair' where just about every bakery in town were displaying their flair with mooncakes in elaborately decorated booths. I was amazed at the effort and creativity put into this. Flavors like coffee, green tea, red bean and sesame are an acceptable development probably since the last five years or so. Bakeries have moved with the times to launch 'fat-free', 'less sweet', 'vegetarian', healthier options for a while now. Plain lotus paste and double yolk are almost passe; a thing of the past!

So, even non-mooncake-eating me succumbed and got myself some really unique mooncakes .... brace yourself, I got me 2 mooncakes from a bakery I've never heard of; Yong Sheng (and this is not a sponsored post!I just thought these guys really deserve the credit for these yummy stuff). These are what I got; Scallop Mooncake and Message of Love. What are they exactly?

Message of Love
Dragon fruit lotus paste with mochi, lychee pudding & cranberry. Seriously, I was like "are these guys for real?"
My verdict: acceptable sweetness with a fruity tang and distinctive lychee taste.

Scallop Mooncake
Lotus paste mooncake filled with mushroom scallops paste. The savory paste is enveloped in a thin bubble of white mochi in the centre of the lotus paste. I was skeptical as anything until they let you 'test' it on the spot. I did and was sold.
My verdict: I love the slightly fishy dried scallop taste, the savory centre balances the sweet lotus paste unbelievably well.

I liked the scallop one so much, a week later I got myself their Nonya Sambal mooncake. It's so fabulous; sweet, spicy, savory with a hint of shrimp and 'belacan' ... totally exceptional!

Well, I wonder what kind of 'innovative' mooncakes we will have next year. Culture and lifestyle has evolved so much that I can't begin to imagine how we will celebrate this festival in ten years to come. All I know for sure is, I will faithfully cart a box of mooncakes to mum, traditions do and always will keep people together, and that is what I really like about this festival. Plus the excuse to pig out on interesting mooncakes of course.

Have a sweet Mid Autumn celebration everyone!


Mrs Top Monkey said...

Yong Sheng is this famous shop in Muar town. They make an absolute fortune selling mooncakes and other traditional Chinese pastries.

My dad got Connor a modern lantern bec I didn't want my little boy going up in flames together with his traditional lantern. It was a helicopter that lit up and had all sorts of noises. Scared Connor to bits the first time we put it on. LOL But next year, when he walks more steadily, I will buy him a traditional lantern and cerita to him the same stuff you've just posted about our childhood Mid Autumn Festival celebrations.

Alice Teh said...

This is an interesting post! I am not a big fan of mooncake but if offered some, I definitely don't mind eating them. I love the story behind the festival.

Paris B / Pink Parisian said...

I'm with Mrs Top Monkey on Yong Sheng :) I'm a firm believer in traditional paper lanterns - none of that battery operated stuff for me but of course only when the kids are bigger. Wait a minute I don't have kids! I'm one to talk! ;) I bought a pack of paper accordian lanterns 2 years ago for the hell of it and hung it around my apartment. It was fun! :D Oh and I'm not a fan of new fangled mooncake - the only ones I"d eat are red bean :)

beetrice said...

call me old-fashioned, but I'm going with Mrs Top Monkey and Paris B - there's something comforting about the traditional lanterns (plastic? battery-operated? music? are you kidding me??)

the small paper accordion lanterns are gorgeous for decor! i was planning to put some up this year but with the renovations everything's in a huge mess...oh well..

those mooncakes sound seriously (o.O) but look yummy...lychee...hmm... :D

Shortcake said...

Mrs TM - Thanks for enlightening us on Yong Sheng! So did you grow up with their mooncakes and what not? :P hehehe

Alice - Thanks :) I'm not a big fan too, unless there are EGG YOLKS galore or the new Nonya Sambal heheh.

Paris - you are like my hubby, he only eats the red bean type! Maybe I should also get a pack of accordian lanterns and walk around with hubby heheh.

Bee - I know ... I love the old school paper lanterns best, I find the plasticky ones a bit weird. Try the mooncakes!

HAPPY MOONY FESTIVAL! And blessed weekend :)

Cmate said...

Happy Mid Autumn!

Shortcake said...

Happy mid autumn Cmate! :)