Who hasn’t indulged in a spot of moon gazing?
In Asia, a whole set of formal festivities are timed by the phases of this beguiling satellite.
Sadly, too many of those I’ve been witness to have relegated the moon to a side show; few of them actually involve gazing at the moon or raising a toast to it.
Enter the dragon.
The Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival with dances, feasting and moon gazing. This fine tradition of moon appreciation has been a custom since the Tang dynasty. Legend would have us believe in fantastical tales of jade rabbits, the archer and the lady living on the moon.
For those more partial to historic facts, there’s the episode of the overthrow of the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty. In the run-up to this victory, it is said an enterprising general of the Chinese army struck upon the brilliant idea of employing Da Shi Jie – traditional mooncakes – as a carrier for messages that helped in co-ordinating a successful rebellion against the Mongols.
I can’t help thinking though that the rebels had their lucky stars to thank that the Mongols didn’t for once consider digging into the message-holding mooncakes.
As for the mooncakes themselves, as the specialty pastry of the Mid-Autumn Festival, they are crafted with a great degree of care – with ornate designs and a filling of lotus seed or red bean paste with salted duck yolk at its centre to represent the moon.
More contemporary renditions of the pastry come as a boon to calorie conscious aficionados. These may well include taro paste or pineapple filling or other more innovative ingredients including prunes, melons, lychees or sweet potato, in a chewy, flaky or tender flour encasement.
If you’re in Mumbai the next week, authentic Mid-Autumn mooncakes won’t be just a pie in the sky – from the 21st to 30th September Chef Yang will lay out a celebratory spread of homemade dim sums and traditional mooncakes at Shanghai Club, ITC Grand Central.
For more information, please visit the Gourmet Guide.