Happy Moon Festival! Well if I’m being proper, I should wish you a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, since this Chinese holiday is about celebrating the end of the summer harvest season. I think it’s pretty nifty this fits in right around the Eat Local challenge.
At any rate, it’s a major holiday in Chinese culture, but here in the US it doesn’t really get that much celebration. I really only found out about it taking Chinese school when I was in elementary school. The first half of school was learning the language but the second half was my favorite – it was all about culture.
Basically, everyone goes and looks at the moon on the Mid-Autumn Festival. There are some stories behind the celebration, too. In Chinese school they told us a couple folk tales about it, and we could try and see one of them in the moon. One is about a beauty who sacraficed herself and ended up on living the moon alone. There’s one about a lovestruck couple who had no hope of being together on Earth and ending up on the moon. Another is about a noble rabbit, or rat, or mouse ending up on the moon. Either way, some kind of struggle and the “good” person or people or animal ending up on the moon. Why don’t you look at the moon and tell me what you see?
I went to the Asian Food Market (91 Colvin Ave, Albany, NY) to buy some mooncakes. I’d been to the Asian Supermarket, and they didn’t really have any. But the one on Colvin is pretty oriented to Chinese-Asians, and not just generically Asian, so I figured I’d have a better shot. Man, did I ever. There’s a few shelves of mooncakes set up just past the registers to the right when you first walk in.
When I was browsing the selection, a little girl came running over and hugged the displays, shouting “MMMOOOOONNNNCCAAAKKKKEEEESSS!!” and I was SO with her there. The only way her parents were able to pry her away from the display was by telling her that Grandma had already bought a bunch for later and she would get some. Later. Mooncakes have been bought. It’s okay.
The sky’s the limit with mooncake prices. This box was only $10.99, but many were in the $25-32 range. They even had some frozen new-wave mooncakes! I really wanted to try them, but it was $30 for 7-8 really small ones. Yikes.
I chose this one not because it was the cheapest (which, it turns out, it was, yay!), but because it was a variety pack of small mooncakes, and none of them had egg yolks. Egg yolks are very traditional mooncake ingredients. And a lot of the larger sized, more traditional boxes of mooncakes contain 1-2 egg yolks. Some can contain as much as 4 egg yolks. There is also usually lotus paste in there too. I didn’t like them growing up, but I might try a nibble of one again. I mean, I also didn’t like cheese was growing up.
BTW, this brand uses the “noble lady does something heroic and ends up on the moon all by herself forever” story. The box should have given it away, but there’s an English print-up on the inside. It’s a really good deal for only $10.99.
And here’s the inside. 8 mooncakes, 4 different varieties (2 of each kind). Now, usually you’d get a tin of 4 larger mooncakes (about 4″x4″), and all of the mooncakes would be the same. But variety is the spice of life, and those larger mooncakes usually have egg yolks that I don’t like. There are also larger/traditional ones without eggs that are either all lotus or all red bean paste.
These mooncakes can fit in the palm of my hand, but are still elaborately decorated. I just love the molds. And they’re easier to eat, too. Mooncakes are dense stuff – I’d have a tough time eating a whole traditional one. And how cute – they even included little forks and a knife to slice and share them!
Here are the varieties: Green tea and lotus paste, pineapple and winter melon, white lotus paste, and Five nuts (almond, sunflower, pumpkin, walnut, black sesame)
I have no idea what is in what, so slicing and cutting open will be a surprise (unless any of my wonderful readers knows what’s what?). I’m excited to try the flaky ones (the white looking dudes) – never had those as mooncakes before (but as really tasty taro puffs from Chinese bakeries).
There are other traditional foods to eat, most of them are sweet. My Dad A) loves the traditional mooncakes packed with egg yolks, and B) says it’s usually fruit like oranges, pomelo, grapes, boiled poi, starfruit, and ling guog which have a black hard shell that looked like two water buffalo horns. Plus there are lanterns and lots of fire for kids to play with.
Happy Moon Festival! Go stare at the big, bright moon tonight!
Stopped by the Asian Supermarket on Central Ave, and they also have a display of mooncakes, most of which are under $20! It’s a different selection and smaller than at the AFM, but worth checking out if you are in the area. They also have more frozen mooncakes. They had some pomelo, but they were mostly green/unripe.