FOOD TALK

Jes­sica Chan muses over how the rise of quirky moon­cakes have rekin­dled her fam­ily’s oft-over­looked Mid-au­tumn tra­di­tions.

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

When my blue moon turns to gold

Sour­sop with cala­mansi or foie gras. If you had told me th­ese moon­cake flavours would pop­u­late my din­ing ta­ble on zhong qiu jie (Mid-au­tumn fes­ti­val) a decade ago, I would have said you were pulling my leg. Also, moon­cakes no longer come shod­dily wrapped in pa­per (cue mem­o­ries of Tai Chong Kok bak­ery's tra­di­tional green bean moon­cakes) but are housed in elab­o­rate chests with fancy mo­tifs, em­broi­dery and LEDS.

Rather than dis­miss th­ese new-fan­gled flavours and over-thetop pack­ag­ing, my fam­ily of con­ser­va­tive tastes (or so I thought) has not only whole­heart­edly em­braced them, but also made them our new Mid-au­tumn tra­di­tion.

Grow­ing up, the fes­ti­val held lit­tle sig­nif­i­cance. Not that my fa­ther didn’t try. He would gather the fam­ily for a joy­ous night with the neigh­bours at the park. The adults would chat about the lat­est hap­pen­ings, while the kids fought over whose lantern was the pick of the bunch. I do have fond mem­o­ries of out­ma­noeu­vring my brother to get what I deemed was the best cut – with the egg yolk – and al­most set­ting my pa­per lantern aflame.

Still, it wasn’t quite like Chi­nese New Year or Christ­mas with the fan­fare and presents. There were no big hol­i­day movies, like All’s Well, Ends Well or Love, Ac­tu­ally, for us to ro­man­ti­cise nor was there any pur­pose to it, such as pay­ing re­spects to our an­ces­tors on qing ming jie (All Souls’ Day). Per­haps my fa­ther felt the same or that it was im­pos­si­ble to wran­gle two re­bel­lious teens into the same room together. He grad­u­ally ‘for­got’. When my brother and I went abroad for our stud­ies in far-flung Scot­land, it was the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin for the Chan’s fam­ily Mid-au­tumn fes­tiv­i­ties.

Iron­i­cally, it was in this for­eign land de­void of any Chi­nese tra­di­tions that I learned the sig­nif­i­cance of the fes­ti­val. The stu­dent city of Dundee had but one Asian su­per­mar­ket. When Au­gust came around, shelves would al­ways be stocked with cheap moon­cakes. It tasted hor­ri­ble, but home­sick stu­dents would still chip in for a box and or­gan­ise a get-together. Me, in­cluded. It was much too windy for lanterns, but my flat­mates and I still did the quin­tes­sen­tial Mid-au­tumn ac­tiv­ity of shang yue (moon ap­pre­ci­a­tion). Throw in a warm pot of tea, our wry hu­mour, plus the gri­mace of for­eign friends try­ing the sac­cha­rine treat and it made for some of my best mem­o­ries abroad.

What al­ways came after, how­ever, was a strong urge to call home, not un­like the poets of the Tang Dy­nasty who would pen down praises for the moon’s beauty and yearn­ings to dis­tant rel­a­tives and friends. Most fa­mous is Li Bai’s jing ye si (Thoughts upon A Quiet Night), where he beau­ti­fully trans­lates the mix bag of emo­tions that comes with pin­ning for his home­town.

Filled with a strong sense of home­sick­ness, I came home one year bear­ing moon­cakes from In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Sin­ga­pore. I was hop­ing to use my fa­ther’s love for Man Fu Yuan restau­rant to push for­ward the re­vival of our Mid-au­tumn par­ties. Alas, it didn’t come to pass. Be­tween my par­ents’ crazy sched­ules and my brother busy­ing him­self with my new­born niece, there was hardly ever time to kick back and re­lax. I couldn’t be­lieve it was that dif­fi­cult.

Then, it hap­pened; with one tin box packed with Raf­fles Ho­tel Sin­ga­pore’s Sig­na­ture Cham­pagne Truf­fle Snow Skin Moon­cakes. Was it the nov­elty? I’ll never know but ev­ery­one loved it. Even my mother who turns her nose at th­ese 'gim­micky’ moon­cakes could be found sneak­ing pieces onto her plate. Im­pressed, my fa­ther even broke out his pre­cious Chi­nese tea set which I was only al­lowed to “touch with my eyes”. He del­i­cately went through the mo­tion to pre­pare the aged Pu’er from Yun­nan, and paired it with the dessert. It didn’t work. But that only fu­elled his search to find one that did.

And so, it be­gan. The year after was Good­wood Park Ho­tel’s Black Thorn Durian snow skin with long jing (Dragon Well tea). Then came Sum­mer Pav­il­ion’s baked Mini Cus­tard Lava with Vanilla, which went swim­mingly with dessert wines and, my favourite, Shang Palace’s Honey Choco­late Col­lec­tion, which rein­vented moon­cakes as truf­fles in­fused with Tas­ma­nian Manuka honey that's great with a pot of Dar­jeel­ing.

This year? We have yet to de­cide. Chefs are push­ing the en­ve­lope with novel cre­ations ev­ery year and we are spoilt for choice. I have my eye on the Man­hat­tan Mid-au­tumn box, which in­cludes the award-win­ning bar’s bar­rel-aged cock­tails in vi­brant snow skins, but Grand Hy­att Sin­ga­pore’s Baked Green Ap­ple with Trig­ona Honey is a close sec­ond. Whether they will work with my fa­ther’s new batch of teas is an­other ques­tion. But leav­ing the pageantry aside, it re­ally is the com­ing together of my whole fam­ily that re­ally takes the (moon) cake.

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