Autumn, Fresh Dates and Moon Cakes
- Maria Eng
Autumn's approaching and all kinds of goodies are showing up at the green grocers. I'm seeing lots of fresh dates around and wondering what can be done with them. Any hints?
Moon Festival is coming on Sept. 12, and I just wanted to give a "heads up" to anyone interested in exploring Chinese mooncakes. They're inundating the Chinese grocers right now and each bakery will be vying for business producing their own specialties. It's only once a year....
Moon Festival, or to be more proper, Mid Autumn Festival, falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. This day falls on or very close to the full-moon of that month.
It's a time when Chinese families gather together with their friends to enjoy each other's company, and contimplate the changing of the seasons and the beauty of the moon. The closest American correlation would be Thanksgiving. There are also a number of folk-legends associated with this festival which kids still love to hear.
Everybody has their own favorite seasonal dishes for this time of year, but the must-have food is MOONCAKES.
There are a number of kinds of mooncake, but the most often-encountered ones are like a fat round fruit bar filled with either bean or nut pastes (red-bean, lotus-seed) or some sort of fruit conserve (pineapple, winter melon). They usually have a hard-cooked salted duck's egg yolk embedded in the center symbolising the moon, and this provides a contrast of saltiness to the often overpoweringly rich sweetness of the filling. It's admittedly an acquired taste, and you can purchase mooncakes without yolks if you really hate them.
Nowadays, I guess this festival is #2 in importance to bakeries after Chinese New Year, maybe even #1 since everybody has to get mooncakes for the family, to give to friends, co-workers, etc. and the bakeries vie with each other for variety and quality and begin taking advance orders about a month ahead. Chinese supermarkets will also have special displays of boxed cakes and even the big restaurants are now getting into the act.
The Rolls-Royce of mooncakes is the white lotus-seed paste with four yolks, and in a good bakery it will set you back about 12 to 15 dollars for one piece! Happily, the less ritzy, and to my mind more interesting varieties cost much less, and most bakeries also make mini cakes about 5cm dia. which allow us to taste alot without going bankrupt.
My favorite bakery for quality and variety, by the way, is Fay Da.
Two links for good MoonFestival/Mooncake reading are:
The first gives good general info plus all the legends. The second has a number of articles on the cakes, festival and some very interesting variations of mooncakes.
re: Tom Armitage
There are also two in Flushing. The one I use is on Roosevelt Ave. at the end of the block west of Main St.(across from the hotel) There is also one further south on Main Street in a large building (bank?) on the west side of the street. This one has a cafe in the lower level where you can get some hot food/dim sum as well as the usual bakery offerings.