Moon cakes a testimony to Chinese ingenuity
Living overseas, one quickly learns that Chinese cannot take credit or be blamed for all the things associated with them, such as Chinese waterboarding and Chinese fire drills. Chinese food is another example.
Almost allUS towns have a Little Panda, GreatWall, Buffet King or all of them, even if they don’t have a post office or fire station. These restaurants often serve Americanized Chinese food. I guess that is the fate of foods all over the world, which is unfortunate. In Texas we have TexMex, Mexican food with Texas characteristics.
I once hadmy car with a mechanic who sent aMexican friend to pick me up. We talked aboutMexican food in the United States. He complained thatMexican food here is only 8 percent authentic. I had no idea where he got the figure from, but he launched into a fury, which made his driving unpredictable. As he cursed, waved and indulged in all sorts of other gestures, he drove onto a wrong road, hit a curb and made turns I had seen only in action movies. Fearing formy safety, I said Chinese food in the US is worse, probably just 4 percent authentic. That injected some calm into him and I was able to get to the mechanic in one piece.
For a Chinese diner in an American Chinese restaurant, nothing is more bizarre than the fortune cookie, a crisp cookie with a piece of paper on which are written dubious Chinese proverbs, random lucky numbers or a fewChinese words. You don’t see such things in China for obvious reasons. It was invented in San Francisco and for years, I thought it symbolized either the nostalgic memory or romantic re-imagination of a country far away for overseas Chinese.
It is amazing how moon cakes have evolved. When we were kids, there were very few varieties of moon cakes, most commonly with red bean paste or lotus seed paste fillings. Now you have roast pork, seafood, green tea, chocolate, cream cheese and even ice cream varieties. One to suit every palate.
Not long ago the prices for some varieties were insanely high in China, as moon cakes were traded as gifts to build relationships. A good price tag, believed many, made a gift-giver appear loyal or friendly. But there are fewer such complaints nowadays. Moon cakes have again become the good old moon cakes the average Chinese loves to eat.
I hope the world appreciates the richness and diversity authentic food brings.
But that could be just a hope, for I’ve heard that there are even Ramen noodle moon cakes now. Exactly how you mix noodles with moon cakes is amystery. It is thus wrong to generalize that the Chinese are incapable of creativity and innovation. Like any other people on the planet, Chinese people are creative in things they care deeply about, such as moon cakes, or sending a spaceship to the moon, where the legendary ancient beauty is supposed to live.
Chang’e The author is a US-based instructional designer, literary translator and columnist writing on crosscultural issues.