It’s that time of year again when the Chinese go mad about the Moon Rabbit, about watching the moon, and about nibbling on over-priced mooncakes. But, bless their cotton socks, they also make the mid-Autumn festival a week long national holiday which, for those who are lucky enough not to be on 24/7 standby, is reason enough to go home and visit family.
This year your favourite blogger popped over to the Philippines for a few days and discovered that good marketing opportunities are never wasted on the Pinoys, as they join in on the spirit of this very Chinese holiday.
The most popular flavour in Manila’s M.O.A. is probably Ube, the Filipino Purple Yam…
… which is all a far cry from what you get in the People’s Republic.
Last week our HR department put on a special “do” for staff to find out more about the Mid Autumn Festival; and we all got to try our hand at making mooncakes for ourselves.
Actually the HR department are good at that. They even lay on some snacks and drinks to make it less of a toss-up between going to the canteen to fill our faces, or learn about Chinese culture.
This time they had got someone in from the China Culture Center to tell us everything we ever wanted to know about mooncakes and were afraid to ask.
I’ve already blogged about the festival itself… of how it falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month and is the 2nd most important festival in China (after Spring Festival).
It all goes back 2000 years to the Tang dynasty and is associated with rejuvenation, that being associated with the moon and water.
The Chinese love to eat mooncakes together (often with fruit – esp. pomegranate and grapes) while they watch the moon (I’ve always wondered what they talk about when they go to watch the moon. “Oh look there’s the moon.” “Oh yes, so it is, just like it always is. How amazing is that!”)
And depending on where one is in China, there are different fillings and different ways to make the pastry that reflect a myriad of regional variations.
A good mooncake should have a crust that is chewy, while also being flaky and tender.
Beijing’s most popular fillings are mountain hawthorn and wisteria blossom flowers, as well as five kernels – that include walnuts, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame and almonds.
In Guangzou they like to fill theirs with lotus seed paste, melon seed paste, nuts, ham, chicken, duck, pork, and egg yolks.
In Suzhou you’re going to find minced pork is popular, while in Yunan they go for rose petal fillings that are certainly my flavourite!
For non-traditionalists who prefer to go to the likes of Starbucks (or even the Philippines) for their annual ingest of mooncakes, you can find fillings such as coffee, ham, cream cheese, chicken floss, tiramisu, green tea, durian, chocolate, coffee, peanut, mango & pomelo and so on and so on.
Now, this all takes me back to the good old days when there used to be a programme on the BBC that was compulsive Saturday night viewing. It was called the Generation Game, and had family members being shown how to do something by an expert and then being asked to do it themselves. It always looked so simple, but the end results were often very far from what was intended.
And so it was that HR divided us up into teams to see how we would fare over making our very own mooncakes. As it was meant to be just a little fun, we could hardly be expected to cook something to perfection, so we were asked to make Crystal Mooncakes – a.k.a. Snow Skin mooncakes, which are a non-baked (ie raw) variety, popular in Hong Kong.
The basic ingredients were all laid out on the table …
...and an “expert” began his preparations. First a measured amount of hot water was mixed with flour …
And the mixture was turned into a dough using either a spatula or chopsticks.
Scales and measuring jugs were used to get the dough just right, and to get the right amount of bean paste used as a filling to go inside the flattened out dough.
Now, we all know how girls can be thoroughly impressed by a guy who gets creative in the kitchen; and this dude was no exception. He almost had them eating out of his hands!
He showed us how to use the plastic moulds to press out the mooncakes into perfect shapes. It all looked so easy!
Of course we were told we could get creative and play with food colouring, and other non-traditional moulds – such as Hello Kitty and Thomas the Tank Engine. Wow! I’m hooked!
We are five of us in the team, and while one person mixes the dough, another throws in colouring, while someone else measures out the bean paste… such a team effort!
Getting the final cake out of the mould is a little tricky at first (probably didn’t dust it with enough flour as we should have done)…
But eventually we get going in earnest. Wow! Is that a mooncake or is that a MOONCAKE!
We start getting even more creative, using 100s-&-1000s and bits of fruit that have been purloined from the lunch snacks…
Somehow the Hello Kitty and Thomas cakes don’t quite have the right amount of panache to them, and with tears in our eyes we watch as another team wins the competition… though I reckon ours aren’t that bad for a first attempt.
We are offered little mooncake boxes to be able to take the culinary creations back to our loved ones… but somehow I’m not sure I’d really want to put my gnashers into one of these, especially as I’ve seen how they were made, so I decline the offer.
But it’s been a fun diversion across a lunch hour (or two) and we head back to the office in a happy frame of mind, having also used the time to get to know other members of the team we might not normally work with.
Well done HR!
Happy mid autumn festival to one and all. 中秋节快乐！– Zhong qiu jie kuai le!