Today is Mid-Autumn Festival in China, an official government holiday. (Which means no classes today. Yay!) I wrote about the meaning of the holiday my first year here, but I want to mention one thing this year: mooncakes.
Mooncakes to Mid-Autumn festival is like candy corn toÂ Halloween, or jelly beans to Easter. Basically, the holiday is not as much fun without these sweet treats. Mooncakes have a dough outside (sometimes crispy, sometimes doughy) with different substances in the middle. You could think of it like a mini pie, or even a little like a fruit cake. And like a holiday fruit cake, mooncakes are unusually dense. They range in size, but a typical one can fit in the middle of your palm, but is heavy, like a hockey puck.
The innards of a Mooncake is where I am a little disappointed. Traditional fillings include egg yolk (blech), bean paste (meh), meat floss (blaargh) and various fruit. The fruit one is pretty much the only one I can get down, and I eat, maybe, a grand total of one every year. Even the fruit filled one has strange seasonings and gelatinous fruit that I just can’t get into.
But it doesn’t mean I don’t get excited when I see a box of mooncakes headed my way. I mean, who wouldn’t love getting a beautiful bag or box filled with decorative pastries. And then I take a little bite and, oh yeah, it all comes back to me. (Come to think of it, that’s the exact same way I feel about Cadbury Creme Eggs. I don’t know if I’ve been able to finish one for years, but I keep trying.)
If mooncakes were common in America, I know exactly what type of filling they would have: chocolate, chocolate and chocolate. I mean, these things are screaming to have a flaky, buttery pastry outside and chocolate creme, or chocolate brownie inside. I’ve heard that in the big cities places like Starbucks sells sweet pastry mooncakes and Haagen-Dazs has ice cream mooncakes, but alas, I’m in the boonies and the most popular filling is things like egg and meat floss. (Meat floss, by the way, is shredded meat made to resemble cotton candy. It’s often found on pastries and yes, is a gross tasting as it sounds.)
This is our third Mid-Autumn Festival in China and this year we have gotten a deluge of mooncakes. In fact, they have been coming in with almost comedic timing. Just when you think they are done with, another box (or two) lands on our doorstep. The school always gives us a couple of boxes which we got earlier in the week. Just those two boxes alone contain 12 mooncakes, which is usually more than enough. But from kids we tutor, to friends we’ve helped, students we love and other people we know, they keep coming. I was halfway done with this post when Ryan walked in with two huge, beautiful packages of mooncakes from the kids he tutors, and I was putting the finishing touches on this post when I got call to come outside to meet some students who presented me with another beautiful box. We are now drowning in mooncakes.
I can’t seem to stop myself. Despite knowing that I probably won’t like the flavor (and knowing they are hugely fatty) I continually find myself opening yet another mooncake thinking ‘this one will be the most delicious mooncake ever.’ I did stumble upon a darker mooncake, which turned out to be chocolate flavored, but the inside was a disappointing bean paste and I let Ryan finish it off.
It is tradition to eat a mooncake while enjoying the sight of the big autumn moon. But seeing as how many we have I think we will enjoy them this full moon, and the next, and the next….