Moon cake and Mid-Autumn Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival is called Zhongqiu Jie in Chinese. It is one of the important Chinese festivals celebrated by Chinese all over the world.
This festival, dating back to over 3,000 years, originated from moon worship during the Shang Dynasty in China. It was first known as Mid-Autumn Festival during the Zhou Dynasty.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. The moon is believed to be the most beautiful and roundest on that night. The full moon also symbolizes reunion of the family. As such, this festival is also called Festival of Reunion.
In the past, Chinese families began the celebration by dining together at home. After dinner, they proceeded to admire the moon while drinking and eating mooncake, pomelo, piglet biscuit, little yam, and water caltrop (lingjiao) , which were traditionally served at such gathering, together with Chinese tea.
Lantern is a part of the festivities. There are great varieties of lanterns, in all sizes and shapes. Some are in the traditional forms while others feature cartoon characters or pop icons. After dinner, the lanterns will be lit up, and the children will carry them around the house.
Cultural activities such as performing fire dragon dances, releasing Kongming lanterns, hanging bright lit traditional lanterns on towers, etc. can be part of the celebration, depending on the customs of the different regions.
Most Chinese families in Singapore nowadays celebrate this festival simply by dining at restaurants.
Freshly made from the finest ingredients, each piece of mooncake (yue bing) is a delectable masterpiece. It is associated with the Mid-Autumn festive period and is an indispensable delicacy in the celebration.
Mooncake is a round Chinese pastry, usually about 10 cm in diameter with 4-5 cm thickness.
The crust is relatively thin, approximately 2-3 mm. Its texture can be chewy, flaky or tender. It envelops a thick filling usually made from lotus seed paste (lian rong). One or more whole yolks from salted duck eggs may be added into the center of the mooncake to symbolize the full moon.
Red lotus seed paste is considered to be the original. White lotus seed paste is more expensive and is the most luxurious mooncake filling. Traditional mooncakes have other types of fillings too, such as sweet bean paste, dates paste, and the five kernel filling.
In the past, mooncakes used to have lard in their recipes for a better taste. Nowadays, with people becoming more health-conscious, lard is quite often replaced by vegetable oils.
The name of the bakery and the filling in the mooncake are imprinted in Chinese characters on top of the mooncakes. The Chinese characters are usually surrounded by imprints of flower motifs.
The mooncake business is very lucrative. Due to intense competition, bakeries and restaurants have created many new types of mooncake fillings. Durian paste, taro paste, custard paste and pineapple paste were some of the first to be introduced years ago.
To cater to change of taste, fillings in contemporary-style mooncakes have evolved to include many exotic flavours such as Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac Truffle, Advocaat Egg Liqueur Truffle, Dark Chocolate Crunchy Pearl, Tiramisu Truffle, Beetroot with Red Wine & Cranberry paste, Bean paste with strands of seaweed and melon seeds, etc. Even ice-cream mooncakes are made.
In line with today’s healthy lifestyle, fat-free, low-sugar and sugar-free mooncakes have also made their appearances.
As for the crust, non-baked, chilled mooncakes were introduced in early 1980s. These are known as “snow skin mooncakes” and are available in many different flavours, e.g. Peach with Choya Praline Snow Skin, Blueberry Cheese Snow Skin, Mango with Pomelo Snow Skin, Red Orange with Banana Snow Skin, etc. Snow skin mooncakes are very popular with the younger generations.
Some changes were also applied to the size and appearance of the mooncakes. Mini mooncakes, approximately 5 cm in diameter with 2.5 cm thickness, are made available. Some mooncakes are now in the shape of a peach to symbolize longevity.
Most mooncakes are sold in airtight plastic, with a tiny food preserver packet in them.
Some hotel restaurants sell their mooncakes in uniquely-designed box.
The photos show the attractive packaging of mooncakes from Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. The outer box looks like a lantern and contains a cylinder box with a cover. Upon removing the cover, the cylinder box can be parted, showing the four mooncakes in layers.
Increased demand for mooncakes
During the Mid-Autumn festive period, it is a Chinese custom that married couples have to buy mooncakes for their parents and other senior members of the immediate family.
Business corporations have joined in the purchase in recent years. They buy mooncakes as gifts for their regular clients and business associates. Some companies even commission mooncakes with their corporate logo. This has led to an increase in demand for mooncakes, especially the high-end mooncakes.
Prices of mooncakes
In Singapore, double-yolk white lotus paste mooncakes sold by hotel restaurants range from S$56 - 118 per box (subject to 7% GST).
The price for the high-end style mooncakes varies according to the different packaging. For example, Li Bai Restaurant has different prices for traditional baked double-yolk white lotus paste mooncakes, based on whether they are packed in normal box, Empress Treasure Box, Imperial Lacquer Box, Gold Brocade Box, or Royal Scarlet Box.
Snow-skin mooncakes cost slightly less than the traditional baked mooncakes. Depending on the flavours, the prices for a box of eight mini snow-skin mooncakes are in the range of S$45 – S$88 (subject to 7% GST).
Traditional bakeries like Tai Chong Kok and Tai Thong still have a cheaper range of mooncakes. Both are household name products of Singapore for many generations.
Other names for Mid-Autumn Festival
Mid-Autumn Festival is commonly known as “Mooncake Festival” or “Lantern Festival” in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The sale of mooncakes commences six weeks before the festival day.
The Mid-Autumn Festival will fall on Sunday, 30 September 2012.