Moon cakes a tes­ti­mony to Chi­nese in­ge­nu­ity

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

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.

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