The Mid-Autumn Festival is approaching fast as is evident at every corner and it is time for people to set aside the chaos of life to enjoy time with their family, admire the full moon, eat a piece of cake, sip a cup of green tea and listen to the moon cake’s tales full of deep affection for long-passed and present life.
FROM THE FLAVOUR OF MEMORIES
In my memory, when the melodies of children’s songs began to rise up from the lips of the kids in my village, it meant the Mid-Autumn Festival was about to arrive and we would soon enjoy the pale skinned sticky cake that filled the air with the faint smell of pomelo and fragrant brown baked mooncakes with mixed nuts.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a holiday that dates back thousands of years. It is not only a day for farmers to rest and have fun after a hard working period, the Mid-Autumn Festival in traditional East Asian cultures is also a chance for relatives and friends to gather and reunite and it is time for people to prepare festive offerings and to give offerings to ancestors, to express their gratitude for a successful harvest and pray for a good future.
TO EAST ASIA’S ULTIMATE CUISINE
Just like Mid-Autumn Festival is the common holiday of many Asian countries, mooncake is not a unique cake of any country. Culinary culture has characteristics of fast resonance, inheritance and integration, so for a long time, mooncake has been a cake bearing the spirit of reunion and blessing of peace, representing the Mid-Autumn Festival of some countries like China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Myanmar.
Japanese mooncake is the most beautiful and exquisite. The mooncake of the land of the rising sun is a glutinous ricecake – the white round cake symbolises the moon and is called Tsukimi Dango. Sophisticatedly, they decorate the cake like a cute Moon Rabbit, then build a tower of cakes and place them in front of the porch, by the window or wherever they can see the most beautiful moon and enjoy Tsukimi Dango with tea, molasses and roasted soybean flour Kinako.
Contrary to the belief of perfect roundness of the Japanese, Koreans believe the full moon can only wane and a crescent shape/half-moon will fill up, so it is the symbol of luck and growth. So during the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Korean people make half-moon-shaped cakes known as Songpyeon. Besides using pure white sticky rice powder as the main colour, they also use green tea powder or wormwood leaf extract for green, pumpkin for yellow and strawberry juice for pink and then Songpyeon is steamed with some pine needles to add a specific and appetising aroma to the cake. Minh Ha who married into a family in Korea 10 years ago told me: “Making a Korean mooncake is not difficult. People here believe that any girl who can make a well-shaped and delicious Songpyeon will find a good, handsome spouse. Married women who are pregnant will give birth to a well-behaved and beautiful baby.”
And in China although mooncake here use the same basic ingredients such as crystallised winter melon, green beans, lotus seeds and salty eggs, each region has different flavours, colours and shapes. While the Suzhou mooncake is round, has a thin crust and is sweet with fatty filling made of green beans and salty egg, Guangdong mooncake has the same taste and texture as our mixed nuts baked mooncake. Taiwanese mooncake, the most distinctive mooncake I ever ate, is soft and shaped like a puff pastry. Filipino mooncake called Hopia has a rough crust, but is soft, creamy and sweet smelling inside. For a more special mooncake, you can taste Thailand’s durian mooncake.
VIETNAMESE MOONCAKE – JOURNEY FROM TRADITION TO MODERNITY
When we were little, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, we always competed to see which hamlet had the biggest star lantern, the most beautiful fruit offering and shared the desire of enjoying sweet mooncake we only tasted once a year.For Vietnamese people like my family, mooncake is not simply a kind of food it is also the symbol of reunion. So during the Mid-Autumn Festival, every family regardless if rich or poor, there is a pair of cakes to offer the ancestors and the gods. In the past, we only had two kinds of mooncake, the pale skin sticky cake and brown baked cake with mixed nuts. The filling of pale skin sticky cake is made of crystallised winter melon, melon seeds, lotus seeds, roasted sesame seeds and Chinese sausage. While the crust of pale skin sticky cake is soft and fine, the crust of baked cake is sweet smelling, greasy, crispy and spongy. The filling of the baked cake is bigger and has diced fat to add a more delicious and greasy flavour to each piece of cake. The distinctive taste of the baked cake is lemon leaf flavour. Pale skin sticky cake is always round and the baked cake is square, symbolising heaven and earth.
In today’s busy life, it seems the meaning of Mid-Autumn Festival has gradually faded away. I rarely see any children excited about eating slices of mooncake or families gathering to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. Even the mooncake is changing; modern cuisine has produced many kinds of mooncakes with different types of special fillings and different designs. Today’s mooncakes are not only made with mixed nuts, but varied with many different flavours such as green tea, cheese, edible bird’s nest, cordyceps sinensis, abalone, ginseng and shark fin. If the modern mooncake is a glamorous, attractive western woman, then the traditional mooncake is like a gentle, delicate oriental woman. However it is shaped, the mooncake is made to bring joy and fullness to the Mid-Autumn Festival, that is the meaning we need to appreciate.
Since I am a nostalgic person, I felt regret that I won’t be able to find the scent of the past in the festival of today, but on one occasion I went out with my colleague, a native of Hanoi, wandered through the Old Quarter to buy a traditional mooncake and I realised that I was wrong. “The Hanoi locals aree loyal to the traditional mooncake. It’s not only quality, fragrant and more authentic, but it also recalls the memories of the traditional Autumn Festival,“she said.
Hiding in a world of colourful modern mooncakes, traditional mooncakes still have their own vitality like an underground stream never dry. Among the numerous modern bakeries, people still find small stalls with small signs in Hang Be, Ma May, Hang Than and Hang Duong Street where you can buy traditional pale skin sticky cake and brown baked cake to offer ancestors, the heaven and the earth. Because that small piece of cake is a silent yet sacred connection with the past and childhood memories.
My father said that in his memory, the Mid-Autumn Festival was so simple and warm. After hard days of harvesting, family members would gather together to celebrate the full moon. While trays of food were offered to the ancestors, the children were full of excitement, each group of children carried star lanterns around the villages. Followed by the drumbeat, the bustling laughter, every child tries its best to be careful with the lantern so that it does not catch fire from the candle inside. After finishing the lantern parade, we came to the tray, enjoyed fragrant grapefruit and tasted each piece of sweet cake and candy, which are gifts nourishing the soul of many Vietnamese generations, including me.
TRADITIONAL MOONCAKE SHOPS IN VIETNAM AND AROUND THE WORLD
1. NINH HUONG CAKE SHOP
♦ Address: 22 Hang Dieu, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
♦ Phone: +8424 3825 1148
♦ Opening hours: 9am to 8pm
♦ Price: from VND40,000 per cake
2. MRS. DAN CAKE SHOP
♦ Address: 52 Hang Be, Hoan Kiem, 126 or 554 Lane, Truong Chinh.
♦ Phone: +8424 3926 1042
♦ Price: From VND45,000 per cake
♦ Website: http://banhtrungthubadan.vn/
3.PHUONG DIEM THUAN CAKE SHOP
♦ Address: 108-110 Pham Phu Thu St., Ward 3, District 6, Ho Chi Minh City
♦ Phone: +8428 3854 4599 – +8428 3967 0388
♦ Price: From VND52,000 per cake
♦ Website: http://phuongdiemthuan.com/mobile/#
4. DONG HUNG VIEN MOONCAKE SHOP
♦ Address: 176 – 177 Bai Say, Ward 4, District 6, Ho Chi Minh City
♦ Phone: +8428 3967 0988 -+8428 3967 0989
♦ Price: from VND55,000 per cake
♦ Website: http://donghungvien.com.vn/
5. XING HUA LOU – 杏花楼
♦ Address: 343 Fuzhou Lu, near Shandong Zhong Lu, Shanghai, China
♦ Phone: +86 21 6373 1777
♦ Web: www.xinghualou.org
6. JIANG MAI TANG (FORMERLY L’ATELIER)
♦ Address: No. 6, Tower 20, Central Park, 6 Chaoyangmen Wai Dajie, Beijing, China
♦ Phone:+86 010 6597 0724
♦ Opening hours: 8am – 7pm
♦ Website: http://jiangmaitang.com/
7. YU AI
♦ Address: Lot 6596, Kawasan Perindustrian Kampung Balakong, Jln KPB 12 / B, Balakong, 43300 Seri Kembangan, Selangor, Malaysia
♦ Phone: +603-8962 2233
♦ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
♦ Website: http://www.yu-ai.com.my
8. FOH SAN
♦ Address: 51, Jalan Leong Sin Nam, 30300 Ipoh, Perak Darul Ridzuan, Malaysia.
♦ Website: www.princehotelkl.co
♦ Phone: +605 254 0308
♦ Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday from 6:30am – 2:30pm
9. THE BAKER’S COTTAGE
♦ Address: 24, Persiaran Ara Kiri, Lucky Garden, Bangsar, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
♦ Phone: +603-7980 8086 / +603-2095 2293
♦ Opening hours: 9:30am – 10pm
♦ Email: email@example.com
♦ Website: http://www.thebakerscottage.com
♦ Address: 18 Marina Garden Drive # 03-03 Singapore 018953
♦ Phone: +65 6604 7370
♦ Price: From USD52.34 per box (about VND1,119,000)
♦ Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 10am – 9:30pm
♦ Website: https://www.bakerzin.com
Thu Hoai | Wanderlust Tips