Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Happy Harvest Moon Festival
Moon cake - remains old school in Toronto - thank goodness!
I got a call from my Dad wishing me a happy "zhong qui jie" or Harvest Moon Festival, which for most families here may mean going out for dinner or getting a giant pile of tin boxes filled with the Chinese version of fruitcake that will probably still be there next year, and if it's individually wrapped with that tiny packet of preservative, can be re-gifted.
Back when I lived in Taipei, there was sometimes a day off in there, along with other odd traditions to mark that beauteous eerily full moon and its historical/mythical origins. I'm sure 20 years ago when my parents lived in Taiwan, it was unheard of to have makeshift barbecues in the street, or to have your children wear festive pommelo peels as hats. Although your work will probably give you a box, no one seems to really want to eat any moon cake. It's more fashionable to round up your friends for an impromptu barbecue, maybe up at Bitan Lake, cooking up skewers of pork balls coated in Korean bbq sauce.
Stores are still stocked with fancy packages of mooncake, but they aren't the Lurch - y traditional types. Very popular are the small balls of flaked pastry - similar to the suzhou style (versus the thicker, egg-washed dough) with a thin layer of red bean, green bean, or lotus seed paste covering a giant bright globe of salted duck egg. There are now almost countless varieties of mooncake fillings and casings from jelly, glutinous rice, to a something you might liken more to a tartlette crust.
In fact, as I recall, last year at a very brief stint teaching english at a kindergarden, after a "fashion" show where these 6 year olds with their various self-styled hats posed on a runway comprising of some pushed together tables, they gifted me with a large box of decorative mooncakes. Whimsically shaped, there were flowers, bunnies, and more! But as I bit in, expecting some lotus seed paste, or maybe red bean, I was sadly disappointed. Mango jelly? Green tea? This was reverse culture shock. It was like eating a plate of "spaghetti" made with ramen and ketchup. I tried to appreciate it, I mean, free sweets are by nature a sweet deal right? But longed for the traditonal cakes of my childhood of cakes made in, yes, Scarborough.
Although, out of the box, the best surprise was the "cinnamon" flavour in a very untraditonal buttery pastry coating (no lard here) that tasted just like apple pie (highly appreciated by a girl who had to spend $5 on a box of imported Kraft Dinner out of home-sickness).
The worst? Candied dried scallop filling! Not being able to read these characters, my roommate (who doesn't know the names of any food in any language - except for fried chicken) informed me that it was an ingredient that was a popular sweet snack for Japanese school kids. So, I bit in - then spat it all out just as quickly - having expected a sweet bite, well it was sweet, but a fishy sweet, literally - she all of a sudden remembered what it was called, "Scallop! Dried scallop - that's it"
Thankfully this year, gold old Scarborough and Markham bakeries come through as does Costco! My sister prefers the lotus seed paste flavour - which to some may still be an acquired taste, but hey at least it's not dried seafood.