This year mid-autumn festival falls on 30 September 2012 – the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar. I remember when I was a young boy, I looked forward to this festival because it was fun and I got the chance to play with the other children holding and parading a paper lantern each. We would try and outdo each other by having the best looking lantern and made our parents buy the one we liked most. We would laughed, walked in circle and took turns to be in the front proudly leading the parade for our parents and neighbours to see the colourful lights illuminating through the paper thin lanterns.
During the mid-autumn festival, more popular known as “the mooncake festival”, it is customary to offer, share and eat a “mooncake” with families and friends. The mooncake comes in various shapes and sizes with sweet pastes inside a thin crust. Many years ago, the sweet pastes are typically made from lotus seeds, red beans, black sesame and some has a dried eggyolk. Now, the sweet pastes have many different flavours – from green tea to mocha and even chocolate. It has become more creative and imaginative. You either like it or you don’t. I guess it is something that you have to grow up with to eat the mooncake.
It has been many years since I last ate a mooncake. On my recent August trip to Penang and Kuching, both places were getting ready to celebrate the mooncake festival with restaurants, shops and supermarket stocking different types of mooncake. I managed to bring back 4 small packets. Each packet has 4 smaller size mooncake. The 4 different flavours I bought included a Green Tea, Lotus Seeds, Coffee and Black Sesame. I bought them in Kuching at one of the local Chinese sundry shops.
Unfortunately, the mooncake that I brought home was not nice. I was hoping that my interest in mooncake will be restored as I don’t remember that I was that particularly fond of eating a mooncake. The little mooncake snack that I bought was dry – the crust was very dry and the sweet paste was dry as well. I guess the best way of eating a mooncake is to buy it freshly made from a restaurant and not keep too long in a pantry. I think the crust should be nice and soft to the crunch, and the sweet paste should be gluey, sweetly sticky and soft like eating a block of nutty toffee. Eating a mooncake should be accompanied by either a cup of tea or coffee. It is like an ancient Chinese version of an English afternoon tea.
Mooncake festival is traditionally celebrated widely in Penang. I was not fortunate to be back in Penang for this festival. Instead, I went to the Chinese Museum at Chinatown in Melbourne. The museum was hosting a free open day with interesting cultural program – Chinese tea ceremony, mooncake making demonstration, traditional Chinese musical and dance performance.
This was my first visit to the museum. It was a small museum. I believed privately funded. There was a bit of history on the first Chinese settlers during the gold mining boom during the 1880s and the harsh treatment of the Chinese settlers with the supremacy of White Australia policy racism which saw a decline in Chinese settlers reduced to 9,000 in 1940s from 50,000 in the 1880s.
The museum itself is quite interesting and colourful, but with limited collections. I was more interested in the mooncake festival program – especially on how to make a mooncake. It was quite a simple process but requires a mooncake mould to form the shape, size and design. It was an educational journey for me.
“Happy Mooncake Festival”