Sunday, October 4, 2009

It Snows on the Moon

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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).

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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.

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Chestnut White Soybean Paste

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Black Sesame Pine Nut

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Pine Nut Green Bean Paste

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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!

5 comments:

Chow and Chatter October 9, 2009 at 3:30 PM  

love your blog, oh and these mooncakes look great

SweetThingsTO October 10, 2009 at 2:56 PM  

oooh - can you still get them? Where would I get them and which one was your favorite? I like the sounds of black sesame and pine nuts.

Maria October 10, 2009 at 6:08 PM  

Is there a store in Toronto that sell those moon cakes????

Bonita October 11, 2009 at 8:28 AM  

Thanks Chow and Chatter!

SweeThingsTO & Maria - You will definitely find them at T&T across the GTA. You might also find them in other large Chinese supermarkets as well. Just check the freezer section (or simply ask about snowy mooncakes).

As for getting them now, I hardly doubt it. Stores are quick to pull them off the shelves right after a festival has past (why I have no idea). You can search around and ask, but you'll most likely have to wait until next year unfortunately!

Hard to say which was my favourite...all were fantastic flavours this year. My mom loved black sesame pine nut, but she really likes black sesame. For myself, I think it's a tie between the chestnut and pistachio red bean.

Andrew October 12, 2009 at 12:43 AM  

Haha, before I brought a double-yolk white lotus seed paste mooncake from Maxim's to work, I checked the ingredients in case I needed to warn my colleagues about allergy concerns. My eyes drifted to the cholesterol line: 49% of the average daily intake!!!

You can understand why even after sharing two mooncakes with plenty of friends and colleagues I still haven't finished my box yet even a week after the Mid-Autumn Festival.

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