It may be a little belated, but 中秋節/Happy Mid-Autumn Festival nonetheless. Mid-Autumn Festival was yesterday, and what a beautiful evening it was to enjoy the lovely full moon. And much like how the Americas have Thanksgiving, Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated by the Chinese as a kind of harvest festival, where family members gather together to admire the harvest moon and eat (of course!).
Traditional mid-autumn foods include pomelo (a relative of the grapefruit), mini taros, starfruit, persimmons, and obviously, mooncake. I’ve never been a fan of them to be quite honest. Every year, my mom would buy a box, or we’d be gifted with one, and every year, I’d try my hardest to avoid eating them. In the end, I was always coaxed to nibble a small piece, in spirit of the festivities. But I always found them cloyingly sweet, I hated lotus seed paste, and the salted duck egg yolk in the centre didn’t help matters (it used to boggle my mind why they’d stick an egg yolk in there besides the fact that it’s supposed to represent the full moon).
Back in the hey-day (and I’m talking about the days when my parents were kids), mooncakes, much like most Chinese pastries, were made with lard. Delicious? Yes. Friendly to one’s health? Not so much. Most mooncake producers use vegetable shortening nowadays, and stick with popular fillings like lotus seed paste (the most common) or red bean paste.
But over time, non-traditional mooncakes and fillings started to pop up on the market, with producers taking advantage of the commercial aspect of the festival (like any other holiday). While snowy mooncakes have apparently been around since the early 1980s, I don’t recall seeing them in North America’s Asian market until about the mid-1990s (and even if they were around before that, I would have been way too young to notice them). These mooncakes, as the name suggests, are chilled and usually offer more exotic and adventurous flavours, like mango, chocolate, strawberry, etc. Last year, I picked up a box of snowy mooncakes made by the Saint Honore company and really enjoyed them, so I decided to go with them instead (I’ve only been able to find two snowy mooncake brands in Toronto: this one and Maxim’s, which seem to have taken a fruitier approach to their flavours this year. Interesting, but a little too far out of the traditional box for me.) Again, Saint Honore did not disappoint, and the flavours, while not traditional, still adhered to some common Chinese ingredients that I’m quite familiar with and enjoy in Chinese desserts.
Chestnut White Soybean Paste
Black Sesame Pine Nut
Pine Nut Green Bean Paste
Pistachio Paste Red Bean
So if you’ve never tried snowy mooncakes, definitely buy a box and try them out next year. They’re quite different from your traditional mooncake, but they’re fun to eat, beautiful to look at, and allow you to still partake in the mid-autumn festivities!