Ah, mooncakes. Since my arrival in Hong Kong I have wanted to try them and on Thursday I finally did! Day of Mid-Autumn Festival when I got to try these little sweet cubes of pastry. The Mid-Autumn Festival also known as the Lantern Festival, or in my case the Mooncake Festival, is a harvest festival harvest festival celebrated in most parts of Southeast-Asia but predominantly China, Korea and Vietnam. It takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese calendar during a full moon. In Hong Kong, the day after the festival is a public holiday, so we did not have school on Friday and got to enjoy the full beauty of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The entire city was decorated with colorful Chinese lanterns and huge thematic lantern displays in different areas of Hong Kong, especially downtown.
(Vilma from El Salvador, photo by ©Agustina Videla)
So, let’s talk about mooncakes (I am so fascinated by them). The reason these 5 cm thick round little pastries, measuring about 10 cm in diameter are called “moon”cakes is the little surprise inside them: a rich thick filling usually made of lotus seed paste that is surrounding an egg yolk representing the full moon!
They are a traditional and indispensable part of the Mid-Autumn festivities and are available everywhere, even in our canteen. Friends and relatives give one another moon cakes as gifts to convey blessings and good fortune. They come in all sizes and taste variation you can think of: mini mooncakes, XXL mooncakes, meat mooncakes, sweet mooncakes, and the most modern creation: icy mooncakes. The tradition dates back to the Yuan dynasty when Han Chinese rebels passed secret messages to one another hidden in the cakes to prevent their plans for insurrection being discovered by their Mongolian rulers.
Since the Friday after was a public holiday, there was no school and we were granted to apply for curfew extensions and even overnights!! Jeremy and Mariyah hosted us in their houses and had prepared delicious meals and treats. After school and Quan Cais, our first stop was Jeremy’s house, where we were greeted by two incredibly cute and fluffy poodles and who seemed just as excited as we were!! Jeremy’s family was there as well, welcoming us funny bunch of young people with warm smiles. His grandmother had been to Berlin and so we indulged in German nostalgia together while all of us shared little stories from their home countries and snacked on crispy shrimp chips. Jeremy’s mom had arranged little tables for us in the little garden and we all got incredibly excited when we saw the sets of bowls and chop sticks. It was time to prove our skills! While eating the spicy Chinese noodles with shredded chicken and black egg was still quite easy, lifting up a piece of BBQ duck with chop sticks proved to be a little challenge. Just when we thought that we were full, Jeremy’s mom surprised us with fried shrimps and veggies, a big pot of salmon with rice and herbs, chicken soup and grilled fish!
After taking lots of photos, sharing stories and petting Jeremy’s fluffy dogs, we were pampered with a four-course desert: puff pastry stuffed with cream and fruits, buns with sweet bean paste, mooncakes and two different types of “tang yuan” glutinous rice balls served in a sweet broth; one filled with black sesame paste and one filled with peanuts. Traditionally, tang yuan is served in festivals and major holidays in China as the name and the shape of it symbolizes the togetherness and completeness. I was quite surprised when I realized that tang yuan is served warm. Jeremy watched us try tang yuan for the first time. We took a tiny bit on the doughy skin and then watched the sesame fillings rush out as the steam escapes from the inside at the same time. Once the entire sweet broth had turned black from the sesame, we went ahead and just swallowed the whole thing. It was a very new taste and the creamy juicy sesame filling literally exploded in our mouths. My favorite part was chowing down the sweet chewy dough.
We listened to Jeremy’s grandmother’s stories about moon cakes and after thanking his family for the wonderful dinner, we headed over to Mariyah’s house which was just down the road. Her Indian heritage was reflected in the beautiful oriental decoration of her apartment and the big carpets that made us feel like we just traveled from Hong Kong to India. Sana (from Iran) and me immediately felt home. Mariyah’s mom had prepared brownies and muffins for us – undoubtedly the best brownies I have ever had. Yummy. All the girl’s stayed at Mariyah’s, the boys at Jeremy’s.
Watch this 1:37 min video about the Mid-Autumn Festival by the Lonely planet!