When In Roam

Carl Chu's Food & Travel Blog

Friday, October 06, 2006

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

It’s autumn. The days are getting cooler and, here in southern California, the brushes are turning to a lighter shade of brown. It’s also the season of mooncakes, in advance of the Mid-Autumn Festival. For us Chinese, this is the dreaded time when boxes of mooncakes start piling up in our homes. Receiving a gift box of these is like getting the flu—we often pass it on to a “friend”, who in turn sends it on to another. Sounds like a game of musical chairs? You bet. The giving doesn’t stop until the day of the festival (this year, October 6). Whoever ends up with the mooncakes then has the misfortune of having to eat them.

Traditionally, these sugary parcels of gluttony were made of a filling of lotus seed paste and lard, baked inside a thin flour crust. Chinese bakeries mainly use vegetable oil these days, and while lotus seed continues to be popular, there’s also a wide range of fillings from pineapple and pine nuts to ham and shark fin. I used to love sampling all different kinds of mooncakes, but over the years my palates have changed such that the excessive oils and sugars don’t appeal much to me any longer. It’s a sign of age, I guess.

I am stuck with four boxes of mooncakes sitting untouched on the dining table. They include lotus seed paste, date paste, red bean paste, and one with five different kinds of nuts. Several have a salted duck egg yolk or two stuffed inside. Those I call “yuck” and “double yuck”. The strangest mooncake I got is the Green Bean “Pong”, a specialty of southern Fujian province and Taiwan, comprised of a flaky white crust and a sweet-savory filling of ground pork and green beans, a curious combination (and not all too appetizing, in my opinion).

I will end up sharing these mooncakes with my American friends. They seem to cherish them more than I do. One guy even says they go well with coffee.

Hmm, lotus seed and mocha java. Hmm…