Sweet Cakes for the Moon Lady
Mooncake, a Chinese sweet cake usually made with a special shape and traditionally filled with ground lotus seeds and duck egg yolks, is never a stranger to all Malaysians, Chinese or otherwise. This is because it had somehow popularized to sort of a pop culture, it is something to be enjoyed together at certain time of the year, which is the Mid-Autumn Festival (sometimes known as Mooncake festival). But for the older Chinese folks they do see these as important for the cultural meaning behind it. Though the real reason behind it may be lost to many of us in this current generation, I am sure if shared, it may still very much be enjoyed and cherished by all.
Photo from Ulterior Epicure
There was no real account on when Mooncake was started to be consumed during the mid-autumn festival, but there was a trace back to 14th century that might contribute to its origin. It was during the time when China was against the Mongol, a general had disguised himself as a Taoist priest to penetrate the besieged city and distributed moon cakes around which holds hidden message to organised with the troops outside the city, where in the end aid in its victory. But of course there is also another legend, Chinese people love their folklores, where it is about a lady on the moon, yes you heard me right, and she is an immortal goddess by the name of Chang E, who as legend foretold is the wife of the best archer in the land – Hou Yi. Hou Yi had been asked by the emperor to shoot down the 9 of the 10 suns that plagued the earth at that time, and after that was awarded with an immortality pill, which Chang E had took from him and fled to the moon where she lives until today. The people on earth will offer mooncakes to her during the Mid-autumn festival, reason to why we offer the lady of the moon was not really explained.
Photo from Synchroni
When I was young, mooncake to me was always a treat that I look forward to, being unable yet to go out and buy myself, I always delight in the sight of t when my dad lugs it back. He used to get a lot of mooncakes from various friends and clients, as it is in the spirit of giving and sharing that makes mooncake eating so exciting. I am not one of a big fan of the yolk that are in some of the variations of the mooncake, I always seek out the plain ol’ ones of smooth, silky, and slightly sweet lotus seed mooncake, the most common Cantonese type of mooncake at that time. My sister on the other hand, loves the yolks to bits and so we form the best pair to indulge in all the mooncakes at home. At times when I do not have a choice of plain ones, I would even naughtily take a mooncake, remove the yolk and enjoy the lotus seeds filling. Miraculously, the yolks that I left inside the box would disappear after that – point in case we all know who the most likely suspect is! Later on when I was older and had the chance to try out more varieties, I found a liking to the five kernel mooncake consisting of various nuts and seeds and sometimes candied winter melon and Chinese dried ham, so you can imagine the myriads of flavours meld together to form a unique taste that is certainly only acquired by quite a selected few. A colleague of mine just commented to me today that “isn’t that type of mooncake is only eaten by old people?” Not to judge, but I for one have yet to met one from my generation who likes this type.
Photo from Just for fun
In Malaysia right now, the mooncake scene has grown tremendously, from the yesteryears of giving each other traditional Cantonese style mooncakes, we have now come forth with many other region’s traditional mooncakes and not to forget coming up with many new contemporary varieties. Cantonese style mooncakes are made of thin biscuit-like dough that are baked to dark brown covering various paste like lotus seed, red bean, white sesame and Chinese red date. Then quite traditional was also the ping pei mooncake (commercially known as snow skin), whereby the skin is made of glutinous rice flour and then chilled in oppose to baked while the fillings are quite similar to its baked sister’s. The new contemporary mooncakes had pop up like mushrooms after the rain, it became really hard to keep track of, especially some debuts only in a year and disappear the next base on its popularity. It ranges with traditional skin but new assorted pastes, naming a few are green tea (quite a strong favourite that has been appearing year after year), honeydew, strawberry, chocolate, cheese and there are even luxurious ones like bird nests. The latest, latest craze was apparently hyping on the get-healthy bandwagon, which is actually jellies shaped and mould into shapes of mooncake. I personally enjoy these versions too for its creative fillings, favourite was durian paste with light jelly skins.
Photo from Lovebuzz
In the end though, regardless what type of mooncake one is consuming, be it traditional, ping pei, contemporary or even the jelly versions, and also regardless whether it is for sake of pop culture or truly to observe the tradition, it is the act of sharing mooncakes collectively that is really the fun part. It is the spirit of sharing the mooncake that gives the significance to it, exuding spirits of reunion while strengthening the ties. I have many fond memories of sharing a small pieces of mooncakes, which was usually cut into 8 slices for its famous Chinese auspicious numbers that signifies fortune, with family, friends and recently even colleagues, where normally the eating of the mooncake will be followed with loads of laughter and sharing of comments on which mooncake taste the best this time around. Also not to forget is the act of giving mooncakes to each other, so head on out now when there is still time to buy a box to share with the people that you care about and also to give to them so that they can also spread the joy of sharing around!
Photo from Christabelle
Rokh is a food columnist on Malaysia Travel Guide, she’s an epicurean and a cook who loves to eat, also writes in her own Malaysia Food Guide – Thamjiak.com . In this column, she will bring you along while she explore various Malaysia foods, like what is good, what makes them so special and how or where to best well enjoy them. More [+]