This September, Chinese and Vietnamese people around the world will celebrate a festival whereby kids will roam the streets parading lanterns of all shapes and sizes, while their families enjoy moon-shaped pastries at home. We are talking, of course, about the yearly Mid-Autumn Festival, and its beloved tradition of eating mooncakes. Read on to get under the skin of these intricate little sweet treats.
Mooncakes’ place in Mid-Autumn Festival was said to have turbulent beginnings, having been used as a tool in the rebellion of Chinese against the Mongols. From 1271-1368 AD, the Chinese were under the oppressive rule of the Mongols, who banned possession of weapons and public gatherings in order to prevent an uprising.
A change was soon underway, however, when Liu Bowen, the confidant of rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang proposed an idea to stage a rebellion on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival. He spread rumours about a plague that would come in winter and convinced everyone that the only way to cure it was to eat mooncakes. This way, the pastries were able to be distributed to all the Chinese residents, and deliver them the secret message contained within: “Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the eighth month”. The coordinated efforts of the Chinese people were sufficient to overthrow their rulers, and since then the tradition of having mooncakes on Mid-Autumn Festival has been passed down to honour the successful rebellion.
What Makes the Mooncake
The mooncake is primarily made up of two parts: the thin, tender pastry crust and the sweet, dense filling that it envelopes. Some variants may contain one or more salted egg yolks, and the crust is usually imprinted with Chinese characters denoting the contents of the mooncake, the bakery where it was made, or just good wishes like ‘longevity’ or ‘harmony’.
Red bean and lotus seed are two of the original and most popular paste flavours, although modern mooncake manufacturers are making consumers more spoilt for choice than ever in green tea, chocolate, coffee and even cream cheese!
In terms of crust, the most common one is the brown, baked type. That said, many also gravitate towards snow skin mooncakes, which are non-baked mooncakes made with frozen glutinous rice. They have a pale, frosty appearance, thus their name. Yet another contemporary style which is growing in popularity is the jelly crust. Like actual jelly, it is made of agar or gelatin mixtures, and infused with all kinds of fruity flavours.
Where to buy mooncakes
- The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur
With names like Snow Skin Cream Cheese with Port Wine and Mini Snow Skin Moët & Chandon, the mooncakes at The Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur’s Li Yen Chinese Restaurant are in a class of their own. As for the more traditional-minded, look to the baked range of 10 different flavours, like White Lotus Paste with Double Egg Yolk and Red Bean Paste with Single Egg Yolk. A box of four baked mooncakes is priced from RM72 nett, whereas a box of eight mini mooncakes goes from RM36 nett. They can also be purchased individually for RM11 nett.
Contact no.: 03-2782 9033
When your mooncake comes with gold dust and Valrhona chocolate filling paired with fig, you know it was designed to impress. We’re talking about Imperial by Chynna (RM32), a.k.a. Hilton Kuala Lumpur’s signature mooncake of the year. Equally buzz-worthy is the Heavenly Gold Mooncake (RM52), which wraps its fresh premium Musang King durian filling within a delicate snow skin exterior. On top of that, you can also find halal-certified baked mooncakes here, for RM30 per piece.
Contact no.: 03-2264 2466
Crafted by the hotel’s signature restaurant Tao Chinese Cuisine, InterContinental KL’s mooncakes come in 10 variants and comprised of six classic baked skin (RM26 nett per piece) and four snowskin flavours (RM28 nett per piece) respectively. On the baked skin side, there’s plenty of old favourites (lotus and salted bean paste) as well as more daring flavours (beetroot and bamboo charcoal). The snowskin family ventures further into innovative territory with options like red prawn durian and coconut milk snowskin with “teow chew” yam shrimp and single egg yolk.
Contact no.: 03-2782 6128
- Jaya Grocer, nationwide
The lovable geek in your life can’t say no to this – Star Wars-inspired mooncakes! That’s right, Jaya Grocer has gone where no supermarket chain has gone before and collaborated with top Hong Kong mooncake brand Mei-Xin to bring these to Malaysian shores. Available as Darth Vader and Stormtrooper metal tin packages (RM106 each), the mooncakes come in Chocolate Lava and Egg Custard flavours, and are stamped with the Imperial and Rebel Alliance symbols respectively. That way, your friends can then pick a side.