Over the Moon(cake)

1 Oct

September 19th was the Mid-Autumn 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 the Chinese equivalent of fruitcake.

Durian Snowskin Mooncake

Behold, the most Asian thing I’ve eaten

The gift-giving aspect of mooncakes has led to something of an arms race in the packaging and novelty-flavor factor. Mooncakes come in resplendent boxes (we’re using one of them, actually a little chest of drawers, to store Mr. SOK’s cuff links) and are offered in ever more exotic flavors; non-Chinese franchises like StarbucksHäagen-Dazs, and Godiva have gotten in on the action with modern offerings like chocolate fillings and ice cream mooncakes.

The original “modern” mooncake is the snowskin mooncake, which is actually a cousin of mochi ice cream: an ice cream filling is surrounded by a soft, slightly sticky wrapper made with glutinous rice flour. Although buying your own mooncake is kind of like throwing yourself a shower, I had to get the Hello Kitty durian snowskin mooncake, which I think is the most Asian food item I’ve had.

Inside the mooncake

This was the first time I’d tried the snowskin variety, and I have to say it was pretty tasty. Unlike the traditional mooncake, which is quite dense, the snowskin is more like what Westerners would think of as dessert, since it’s mostly ice cream. The durian flavor translated well into frozen custard form, though it’s still probably a stretch for those who don’t like durian. And there’s something particularly delicious about the contrast between the chewy mochi and the smooth ice cream. (One of my early memories was watching the ads for the original mochi ice cream, called Yuki-mi Daifuku, which was introduced in 1981; as an impressionable 5-year-old in Tokyo, these looked like the best things ever. Not that my mom bought them for me. It was many years before I actually got to eat mochi ice cream. I don’t think I’ve ever had an actual branded Yuki-mi Daifuku.) I can see why the snowskin version has become so popular: pretty and delicious!

But I’m still a fan of the traditional mooncake. Come to think of it, I like fruitcake, too. Maybe I should start a club?

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