Moons over Kuala Lumpur

27 Sep

Moon Cake

Last weekend, Chinese communities in Asia celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival, which they should re-name the Moon Cake Festival, because that seems to be the primary focus. The basic idea seems to be that on the night when the full moon is the brightest (the 15th day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar), families watch the full moon, kids get to stay up late and play with festive paper lanterns, and everyone eats elaborate pastries known as “moon cakes,” which bear no resemblance whatever to Moon Pies. And, because this is Asia, you spend the preceding month giving out said cakes to colleagues, neighbors, business associates, etc., preferably the most impressively packaged possible.

I was familiar with the moon cake itself (they call them geppei in Japan), but not with the festival, despite growing up in places with huge Chinese populations. In Malaysia, you’d have to be living under a rock to miss it, and even then, a nice Chinese Malaysian would probably lift your rock to present you with a box of moon cakes. (This actually happened. I was in the shower when the doorbell rang, and I ran out in a towel because I thought it was an emergency — who would be ringing my doorbell if it wasn’t? — only to find the nice lady from the management office, who was giving out moon cakes to all the condo residents. Awkward.) They’re so ubiquitous that even Häagen-Dazs and Mrs. Fields have them. (Yes, there’s a Mrs. Fields in Malaysia. And DuDo’s. It’s just like home, except with dragon fruit jelly donuts.)

Box for moon cakes: packaging as pretty as its contents.

Traditionally, moon cakes are filled with a dense lotus-and-bean paste, sometimes flavored with pandan (which gives the paste a bright green color and a subtle, nutty flavor), and a salted egg  yolk (or two, if it’s really decadent). “Paste” is really a key word here; imagine kindergarten paste (the kind kids used to eat), but less sweet. Another traditional filling is fruits, nuts, and…ham. I guess it’s not so far off from a b’stilla, but I couldn’t bring myself to try it.

Pandan-lotus moon cake with a single yolk

There are also the nouveau moon cakes that try to one-up the competition with increasingly elaborate fillings. For example, one restaurant offered a “Yellow Moon” flavor with a violet-flavored pastry, brandy-flavored lotus paste, and a chocolate center, and a “Blue Moon” that involved a “blueberry cheese Feuillantine,” whatever that means.

Chic moon cakes

The trend this year seemed to be “snow skin,” which means that the moon cake has a mochi wrapping rather than the normal pastry.

That's real gold leaf on those moon cakes.

Tom brought a couple of these new-fangled flavors home from his office’s moon cake party, and I have to admit they were pretty good. I especially enjoyed the mocha and green tea flavors. It helped that the filling was smoother than the lotus type.

And look, so pretty!

That’s the green tea version. The color comes from the tea, not food coloring. The filling was just as green, and had a much stronger tea flavor than I expected, but in a good way.

Ironically, despite all the moon cake we ate, and the Mid-Autumn Festival advertising we were bombarded with, we were in Melbourne (a very moon cake-free city) for the actual festival. Oh well, Deepavali’s right around the corner, and I’m sure the malls will be setting those displays up shortly.

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2 Responses to “Moons over Kuala Lumpur”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. A Good Egg « Straight Out of Kampung - January 7, 2011

    […] for congee (rice porridge…got to love those Asian hotel breakfast buffets), or the yolk in moon cakes. It’s a lot like a normal hard-boiled egg, except that it’s a lot saltier, obviously, […]

  2. Over the Moon(cake) | Straight Out of Kampung - October 1, 2013

    […] Festival, celebrated by Chinese communities with lanterns and the giving and eating of mooncakes, round pastries traditionally filled with sweet bean or lotus pastes which could be considered […]

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