China Daily (Hong Kong)
Joyous memories of munching on a mooncake in Beijing
Mooncakes are a happy childhood memory for me.
When I was growing up in Manila, mooncakes would normally start popping into stores in the late downpours of August as the typhoon season hit full stride in the Philippines.
My favorite would be those packed with nuts and a salted egg. I would bite off a chunk, roll them around in my mouth, and savor every morsel.
Their packaging was simple, nothing ornate to give them away. Forrest Gump would say in the movies that “life is like a box of chocolates”. I can say the same thing about mooncakes.
They were delightfully chewy. My dad would get a small can from his Chinese friends and the feast would rapidly disappear when he got home as my brother and sister piled in.
I would grab a piece or two and enjoy the snack with a Coke.
There is a significant Chinese community in the Philippine capital, as there are in most of Southeast Asia. One of the things I enjoyed growing up was to go there during Chinese holidays when food would be plentiful and just plain delicious.
Forrest Gump would say in the movies that “life is like a box of chocolates”. I can say the same thing about mooncakes.
The history and genesis of MidAutumn Festival, also known as the mooncake festival in China, is just as fascinating. An early yarn says the feast was derived from the custom of moon worship dating to 3,000 years ago.
The practice became popular as the years and dynasties rolled along. The cakes are eaten on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. No one bothered with the fact that the eating began even before that day or a week or so afterward.
When I got to Beijing, the mooncakes would gradually start appearing in the convenience store or in the office in early September as the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday drew near.
This year, the cakes began showing up in the convenience store on the side street of the China Daily office sometime late in August.
The nutty versions quickly sold out, snapped up by customers who would swing by and buy one, two or more at a time.
Once, we went to a nearby hotel that featured Southeast Asian buffet and quickly noticed the Chinese restaurant on the same floor were featuring some mooncakes.
We began asking about the price of one and beat a hasty retreat when the salesperson said one box of cakes came in at nearly 400 yuan ($62). Maybe we got lost in translation, but the price just seemed a tad too high for our pockets.
While I love mooncakes, my love affair did not go that high.
One day, on either side of MidAutumn Festival, a box of mooncakes landed on a desk in the office.
One box reportedly came from the Ritz Carlton and the other box the following week was supposedly from the Hilton.
I grabbed one and ate them slowly and with relish.
There is no better feeling than sating a craving. Nothing beats having mooncakes while being in the country which gave birth to them.