Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Wednesday, October 4 2017 marks the start of the holiday, which celebrates that big, beautiful full moon, which we should hopefully see through the clouds. This is one of the four major holidays in China, where families get together to celebrate under the moon, hope for a good harvest, and yes, eat mooncakes! And if you see the lines forming in the bakeries around Shanghai this September, you know that the mooncake business is booming; to such an extent that multinationals like Starbucks and Häagen-Dazs are piling into the market! Indeed, many businesses including department stores, hotels and restaurants have a very large (and sometimes very expensive) display of ornate gift packs with a huge variety of fillings, from the traditional to the downright crazy (McDonald’s mooncake anyone?) So, what’s up with the mooncakes?
Mooncakes traditionally consist of a round pastry, filled with a sweet, dense filling. The decorations on top of the cakes often represent Chinese characters for longevity or harmony. In Chinese culture, the roundness of the cake symbolizes completeness and togetherness.
Unfortunately, mooncakes are not very healthy, especially the crust, which is typically made with lard. Calorie count varies hugely per cake, from 200 to 1000 calories, with most closer to the 500 mark. Vegan mooncakes are now available to meet growing demand; check out Jen Dow Vegetarian on Yuyuan Lu, Fortunate Coffee on Songhu Lu and TRIBE on Fumin Lu for some vegan options.
Here are some of the more popular, traditional types of mooncake:
- Lotus seed paste (lían róng): Considered by some to be the original and most luxurious filling. Salted egg yolk is often inserted into this and other pastes.
- Sweet bean paste (dòu shā): A number of bean pastes are commonly used. Red bean paste, made from azuki beans, is the most common but mung bean and black bean are also used.
- Jujube paste (zǎo ní): A sweet paste made from the ripe fruits of the jujube (date) plant. The paste is dark red and can have a slightly smokey / sour taste.
- Five kernel (wu rén): A filling consisting of 5 types of nuts and seeds, coarsely chopped and held together with maltose syrup. Recipes differ from region to region, with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame, or almonds being popular options.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! May the round moon bring you a happy family and a successful future. – Jessica W. 😉