Gear­ing up for moon­cake mad­ness

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By CLARE BUCHANAN clare@chi­nadaily.com.cn

I love Chi­nese fes­ti­vals. I not only en­joy the ex­tra hol­i­day time, but I like learn­ing the story and mean­ing be­hind each oc­ca­sion, join­ing in the cel­e­bra­tory cus­toms and most of all tuck­ing into the tra­di­tional treats as­so­ci­ated with each event.

Armed withmy usual en­thu­si­asm I be­gan read­ing up about the quickly ap­proach­ing MidAu­tumn Fes­ti­val, which falls on Sept 8 this year.

The story of the “moon fairy”, which I was taught at pri­mary school in Hong Kong, quickly came back to me and stirred up child­hood mem­o­ries of munch­ing on moon­cakes.

Ea­ger to taste the round, flaky pas­tries filled with egg and lo­tusseed paste once again, I asked my Bei­jing friends where and when I would be able to get my hands on the sweet treats.

The re­sponses I got were not quite what I had ex­pected. Ap­par­ently I for­got to re­move my rose-tinted glasses when I thought about my moon­cake mem­o­ries.

First of all, un­like most other foods in China, moon­cakes are ex­pen­sive.

In con­trast to the huge, steam­ing bowls of noo­dles I reg­u­larly gorge my­self on for din­ner for just 18 yuan ($2.93), a ba­sic box of six moon­cakes can set you back 100 yuan, with high-end ver­sions closer to 400 yuan.

The ma­jor­ity of my friends, both Chi­nese and for­eign­ers, told me they didn’t even like the taste of the tra­di­tional pas­tries.

One par­tic­u­lar friend told me the hefty price tag was just to con­vince peo­ple they taste good and said “any­one stupid enough to want to eat them de­serves to pay”.

An­other com­plained the sweet cakes, which can be laden with up to 1,000 calo­ries, ru­ined hours of sweaty work in the gym.

De­spite the gen­eral dis­tain, sev­eral friends ad­mit­ted that, come the 15th day of the eighth month of the lu­nar cal­en­dar, they would be vis­it­ing the bak­ery to buy moon­cakes.

One friend told me whether you love them or hate them, pre­sent­ing moon­cakes to rel­a­tives and busi­ness as­so­ciates was an in­te­gral part of the fes­ti­val, show­ing re­spect and build­ing re­la­tion­ships.

He ex­plained that in a cou­ple of weeks I wouldn’t be able to escape from the pas­tries, which would be ev­ery­where, but ac­tu­ally very few would be eaten. He ad­mit­ted he still had a stash of moon­cakes given to him last year fes­ter­ing in his kitchen cup­board.

I sup­pose Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val’s gift-giv­ing cul­ture is not un­like Christ­mas Day. Na­tional pro­to­col says it’s a time for giv­ing and re­ceiv­ing — and then leav­ing un­wanted presents at the back of your wardrobe.

The fes­ti­val re­ally has turned into a com­mer­cial spin­ner. Even Star­bucks and Haa­gen-Dazs have got­ten in on the game, putting their own twist on the treats with new fla­vors and choco­late and ice cream ver­sions.

In past years moon­cake-giv­ing rock­eted as busi­ness­peo­ple ea­ger to use cake to beef up their busi­ness re­la­tions snapped up boxes worth up­ward of 1,000 yuan.

Au­thor­i­ties were moved to en­force a cake-only rule on all prod­ucts la­beled with “moon­cake” in 2012 af­ter ex­pen­sive pack­ages in sump­tu­ous boxes in­cluded more lav­ish ex­tras, such as ex­pen­sive tealeaves and al­co­hol, than ac­tual pas­tries.

Last year more re­stric­tions were brought in ban­ning gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials from us­ing public money to buy high-end treats.

To avoid a to­tal eclipse of my in­no­cent and ide­al­is­tic moon­cake­mem­o­ri­esthisMidFes­ti­val I will also be shun­ning ex­cess and ex­trav­a­gance.

If a high-end moon­cake comes my way I won’t refuse a bite but I plan to track down a cheap and cheer­ful ver­sion of the con­tro­ver­sial cake, which I am­sure will taste iden­ti­cal to its luxury coun­ter­parts.

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