Two weeks ago a Chowhound forum user, Gordon Wong, started a discussion thread and he questioned whether mooncake is like fruitcake: often gifted but rarely eaten. I was pleased to read that majority of the responders reported they love mooncake and do eat them. I too am a fan of mooncake. I like them so much that I often wait until after the Mid-Autumn Festival so I can buy more of them at a discount.
A few years ago I happened to be in Shanghai during the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Normally during this time of year families come together for reunion dinners. But a few of my expatriate friends from Singapore and Malaysia, and I were posted in Shanghai without our families. So we gathered up a group and celebrated the festival at a Shanghainese restaurant. As we ordered our meal the waitress suggested we try some pork mooncakes. That was the first time I tasted a savory mooncake.
I walked into the K-Mart store near Penn Station in New York last week and discovered to my horror that the Christmas section is already fully stocked with artificial Christmas trees, holiday decorations and ribbons. I had to check the date on my New York Times to make sure I had not completely missed Columbus Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. This senseless commercialization sent shivers up my spine.
Just like Christmas in America and the West, Asian merchants have learned the art of commercializing holidays. I was rather surprised, though not completely unexpectedly, to find mooncakes being marketed all over Asia as I traveled in August even though Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (中秋節) is not until October 3rd. From Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong and Singapore to Shanghai, neighborhood bakeries as well as multi-national food chains were touting their specialty mooncakes in advertisements as well as by shelf talkers in their stores.
All my friends thought I was out of my mind when I told them I was going to make homemade mooncakes. Well you see mooncake is one of those things better left for a professional bakery to make. Making them is time consuming and can be very tricky to handle. But the idea of making them at home intrigued me, and I was determined to make an attempt for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival this year. In fact I wanted to experiment with more modern and innovative flavors. So, I got on Amazon and ordered two mooncake molds and made my very first homemade mooncakes: Earl Grey Tea Mooncakes with Egg Yolk and Pine Nuts.