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ART & LEISURE: Mooncake Standing for Togetherness
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Mooncake Standing for Togetherness

By Nadia N.

Moon Cake HeaderIt is hard to imagine China and Mid-Autumn festival without its traditional treat - mooncakes. Among vast variety of tastes (and many times unexpected), foreigners usually don't risk eating or buying them, though mooncakes are definitely worth at least trying. Traditional Mid-Autumn Festival dessert can be very far from the usual dessert taste - sweet or fruity - but can be made from traditional Chinese ingredients making mooncakes very different from what we are used to eating.

As the matter of fact, mooncake or yuebing (月饼) is traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival not only in China but also in many other neighbouring Asian countries like Hong Kong, Vietnam and even the Philippines. Due to its popularity, a lot of bakeries - both Chinese and Western - don't set limits for customers and sell mooncakes throughout the year. Mid-Autumn Festival, a celebration for worshipping the moon and expressing gratitude to it is the equivalent, according to some culture experts, to American Thanksgiving in terms of saying thanks, having a family gathering, appreciating this union and sharing a celebration meal. However, doubtlessly, has absolutely nothing to do with Indians but connected to the ancient traditions, myths and legends of China.

mid autumn festival moon cakesMooncake is a round-shaped pastry measuring usually 10cm or so in diameter, that is offered and shared during celebration meals among family members. The shape of the mooncake represents unity of family and friends - beautiful symbolism that even now makes busy modern family members spend an evening together.

Traditionally, eating mooncake is not the only significant tradition - preparing and baking mooncakes is considered to be even more essential. Similar to Spring Festival's making of dumplings among family members in order to bring luck and peace to the family, making mooncakes has a spectacular meaning for traditional Chinese families. However nowadays, due to the fast pace of life and busyness of modern people, more and more people prefer to simply buy them. Consequently, almost every restaurant is taking part in this mooncake craze. You can buy differently shaped and ready-to-go mooncakes on almost every corner. Sadly, but conveniently, the tradition became a good period for small businesses to spread more and more in major cities like Tianjin, Beijing, Shanghai and so on.

Now various mooncakes can be found in famous Western restaurant and cafe chains like Haagen Dazs, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, as well as branded hotels and companies not related to the dining industry who are now trying to keep up with the fashion! It has its advantages for busy and more open-minded people. Today, presenting mooncakes to clients and customers has become a "€œmust"€ and an important trend, helping to fuel high demand of first class mooncakes in luxury packaging. But unfortunately, giving mooncakes can be a waste as Wall Street Journal's China Edition estimates that over 2,000,000 mooncakes are being thrown away and even more of them passed to the next friend or acquaintance as generous gifts every year!

Well, there is something about mooncakes that attracts and scares foreigners away at the same time. For mooncakes fillings (which is traditionally the most exciting and delicious part of every cake) Chinese people usually use jujube paste (枣泥), lotus seed paste (莲蓉), sweet bean paste (豆沙), egg yolk and it can even contain (God be merciful) durian. But in contrast with fillings which can be unpredictable, the crusts are more or less always the same everywhere in China - chewy, flaky or tender. One of the most symbolic and significant ingredients for Chinese mooncakes is the whole salted yolk and it's not hard to see why - the yolk reminds us of a full moon, everything that this festival is about.

Mooncakes Shangri La Hotel Bangkok 2012Tianjin and Beijing mooncakes are very close in style and can vary only from family to family. It is traditional style of Northern mooncake, which is quite different from Suzhou or Shanghai versions. It is usually moderately sweet, features a good proportion of crust and filling (rich in the latter) and traditionally has elegant decoration. Decoration is a very important part of the mooncake. It is usually an ornament and comprises of some characters that stand out from the top. Usually the characters explain what filling is within the mooncake or the name of the bakery where the delicacy has been made. Moreover, it can contain an ancient idiom or saying.

Just like Chinese cuisine which has countless number of dishes and flavours, mooncakes can vary from place to place. They can be made with meat or fish fillings, the crust may be made of jelly with sweet potato filling. But, as time and trends don't stand still, mooncakes nowadays can fit any taste. In major cities they can be prepared as ice cream dessert, have fruit and creamy fillings, a chocolate or nutty crust or even be pink, golden, yellow or transparent.

Chances of receiving a mooncake during the Mid-Autumn Festival are truly high, and before saying no to this ancient dessert and symbolic treat, try to find your favourite one and pour some tea (or coffee maybe) to accompany it!


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