Moon­cakes from heaven

Hong Kong's sweet ob­ses­sion with this tra­di­tional Mid-Au­tumn Fes­ti­val snack

Global Times - Weekend - - DINING -

It is one of Hong Kong’s most trea­sured food tra­di­tions: the buy­ing, giv­ing and eat­ing of “moon­cakes” to mark mid-au­tumn fes­ti­val, cel­e­brated in Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties around the world next month.

Bak­eries and su­per­mar­kets are al­ready packed with boxes of the dense pas­tries, tra­di­tion­ally filled with a heavy sweet con­coc­tion of lo­tus seed and egg yolks.

But not all moon­cakes are made equal.

Picky cus­tomers will queue out­side the most pop­u­lar stores to en­sure they bag their fa­vorite brand.

Moon­cakes by chef Yip Wing-wah of Hong Kong’s fa­mous colo­nial-era Penin­sula Ho­tel are among the most in de­mand – and the prici­est.

Boxes of eight of his Spring Moon mini egg cus­tard moon­cakes cost HK$520 ($66) and are only avail­able in a three-day pre­order sale on­line, to avoid pre­vi­ous un­seemly queues at the ho­tel.

This year’s sale took place in Au­gust and sold out, weeks ahead of the fes­ti­val.

Now 65, Yip in­vented what has be­come his sig­na­ture mooncake 30 years ago when he worked as a dim sum chef at the ho­tel’s Spring Moon res­tau­rant.

It was in­spired by gooey egg cus­tard buns, a clas­sic dim sum dish, and is smaller and lighter than tra­di­tional moon­cakes, although it still packs a sug­ary but­tery punch.

“I have an emo­tional at­tach­ment to it, re­ally I do – be­cause I would never have guessed that it would grow more pop­u­lar every year,” says Yip, who started to work in Hong Kong res­tau­rant kitchens aged 13.

Deep in the Penin­sula’s base­ment, Yip kneads elas­tic golden dough to show how he and his team will make this year’s new ly­chee-fla­vored spin on his orig­i­nal clas­sic.

Rolling it out into lengths he plucks small pieces off and flat­tens them be­tween his hands be­fore us­ing them to en­case sweet fill

ing. Each dough ball is then pressed in­di­vid­u­ally into a mooncake-shaped hole in a heavy wooden holder, which Yip bangs three times on a worktop to pop out a per­fect pas­try. Those who get hold of a box will share them with friends, fam­ily and busi­ness as­so­ciates as part of the fes­ti­val, which is the second largest in Hong Kong af­ter Chi­nese New Year. The leg­end be­hind it re­volves around a beau­ti­ful woman called Chang E, who drank an elixir of im­mor­tal life to keep it out of the hands of a ri­val of her hus­band. It caused her to as­cend to the moon, leav­ing her dis­traught hus­band on Earth. He took her fa­vorite foods to an al­tar and of­fered them as a sac­ri­fice to her, a rit­ual then adopted by lo­cal peo­ple. “Mid-au­tumn fes­ti­val is about com­ing to­gether as a fam­ily to eat moon­cakes and fruit and to ad­mire the moon,” says Lam Mei Yu, 40, bit­ing into one on Hong Kong’s har­bor front dur­ing a visit from her home in South China’s Guang­dong Prov­ince. For his part, Yip vows to con­tinue to bake them as long as he is able. “As I make more I be­come hap­pier,” he said.

Pho­tos: VCG

Yip Wing-wah dis­plays his freshly baked moon­cakes at the Penin­sula Ho­tel in Hong Kong.

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