It’s time for moon cakes again. The mid-autumn festival isn’t until September 18 — and should thus be called the late-summer festival — but this isn’t the first time people tried to get a head start on a holiday.
Tradition has it that moon cakes were first used to carry messages to help the Chinese throw off the Mongols in the 14th century. That would explain why we still find strange things in moon cakes, like salty egg yolks. They are supposed to represent the moon, which is unfortunate because that is the part we always throw away. Rumor has it that some moon cakes have four of these salted horrors inside of them to represent the four phrases of the moon. Yeerrch.
Moon cakes are generally exchanged between family members and loved ones in Shanghai to help everyone imagine what the moon must look like in a place without pollution. In the less polluted parts of the country, people actually gaze at the moon while they eat moon cakes. In fact, moon gazing inspired some guys long ago to get trashed and write some poems.
In the past, moon cakes took up to four weeks to make, but never fear. You can now get them easily all over the city — and they come in a multitude of flavors, like lotus seed, red bean, fruit, date, green tea, meat and even coffee. At 900 Century Eatable (we wish we were kidding) on Huashan Lu near Yuyuan Lu, you can get all kinds of flavors for around 5 yuan per jin. We prefer the hami melon and pineapple. Excellent coffee flavored ones can be found at Croissants de France for 4-5 yuan, but avoid the ones labeled “XO”. They taste like crap. For 100-300 yuan, you can get a boxed set of moon cakes from bakeries and supermarkets throughout the city. They even have three-tiered swivel boxes at Christine (in Chinese) for 168 yuan. Should you be feeling adventerous, some bakery chains like Ganso (in Chinese) and Christine are offering ice cream moon cakes. Usually the ouside is chocolate or some kind of scary pastel color, while the inside is full of ice cream, which we hope wasn’t made in China. If you have a spare 388 yuan, you can fork it out for a box of ice cream moon cakes from Haagen Dazs. To get the more traditional style, head to the gate of Jing An Temple, where you can “get in line” to buy some of the cheapest moon cakes in the city. For once, we find that the options in this city are far too endless.
Pictures from ChinaTaiwan.org and About.com.