Food and Drink
The Magic of Mid-Autumn
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Food and Drink
The Magic of Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes
When it comes to producing mooncakes, the quintessential delicacy of the ancient Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, world-class chefs are increasingly combining tradition with innovation. Bon Vivant speaks to the creative minds behind the most popular varieties in Hong Kong.
In Chinese tradition, the full moon is a symbol of peace, prosperity and family. One of the most important Chinese festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, celebrates these concepts on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the moon is said to be brightest and roundest – this year, on the 13th of September.
During the holiday, celebrations revolve around observing the full moon, giving thanks and family reunions. For the latter, food plays an important role, particularly ingredients that emphasise the season’s harvest, such as pumpkin, taro, hairy crabs, and auspicious round foods, including mooncakes.
Island Shangri-La's milk custard and dried tangerine peel mooncakes
Round and golden like the harvest moon, the delicacies are said to date back to the Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 907 AD), although it wasn’t until the Song Dynasty (960 AD – 1279 AD) that they were given their name and became more closely associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Mooncakes are an acquired taste for some with their combination of sweet and savoury flavours. The dense sweet pastries, which are either baked or steamed, are traditionally filled with lotus paste and salted egg yolk. But today they appear in many varieties across China, especially in Hong Kong, where patisseries and restaurants are vying for the attention of diners during the festive season.
Chef Leung Yu King
Chef Cheung Long Yin
One of the chefs getting creative with the confectionery is Leung Yu King, Executive Chef at the Island Shangri-La hotel. “Mooncakes used to be just about lotus seed paste and egg yolk, but an increasing variety of new flavours have emerged in the market over the past decade,” he says. The chef finds that millennials, in particular, love to try something new while observing the Chinese traditions of sharing and giving away festive goodies. “Our milk custard mini mooncake has always been a best-selling item among the younger generation,” he says.
At its sister hotel, Kowloon Shangri-La, Executive Chef Cheung Long Yin creates new additions annually to suit different palates at the two-Michelin starred Shang Palace restaurant. In 2018, he released three new flavour combinations: Long-jing tea and five-seed; apricot and red date paste with port wine and 50-year mandarin peel and red bean paste. For 2019, Chef Cheung has again created something different with two new varieties: pineapple mixed with five nuts and ginger with golden preserved egg and lotus seed paste. “These two combinations are original and cannot be found anywhere else in the city,” he says.
“The round shape mould is the most important… as round means togetherness and consummation.”
Sharing tables at Shang Palace
While variety is the calling card for many chefs reinventing the mooncake, other establishments choose to stick to just one winning formula. At the Michelin-starred Spring Moon restaurant, located in the Peninsula Hong Kong hotel, only one kind of mooncake is served, which is the restaurant’s highly coveted mini egg custard mooncake.
First launched in 1986 and created by way of a traditional recipe that uses rich duck eggs, Spring Moon’s mooncakes have attained legendary status, making them as sought-after as they are delicious. The restaurant’s culinary team combine Eastern tradition with Western culinary techniques to create them but keep the technicalities of their mooncakes cloaked in mystery. “The exact proportions and nature of the ingredients remain a closely guarded secret,” they tell Bon Vivant.
“Mooncakes used to be just about lotus seed paste and egg yolk, but an increasing variety of new flavours have emerged in the market over the past decade.”
Spring Moon’s coveted mini egg custard mooncakes
Chinese tea provides the perfect solution for cleansing the palate and washing the indulgent treats down, which can be relatively rich due to their dense fillings. Chef Cheung recommends pairing mooncakes with Pu-er tea, which helps break down the fats and promotes blood circulation. “There can be a tea pairing for different moon cakes depending on the flavour,” he says. “But Pu-er is my favourite choice among all”.
Mooncakes are also known for being a feast for the eyes. Before they are baked, the cakes are pressed into a wooden mould which creates a decorative pattern on the top and sides of the cake. “The round shape mould is the most important,” says Chef Cheung “as round means togetherness and consummation.”
Sharing the dessert around the table with loved ones and a pot of tea is where the magic of mooncakes can be found, proving they are just as much about the ceremony as taste. With this festive delicacy symbolising so much in Chinese culture, it’s no wonder that chefs want to celebrate the mooncake and keep the tradition going.
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