Mid-Autumn Moon Cake Festival
Dr. Nestor Alonso ll (The Freeman) - October 19, 2017 - 4:00pm

CEBU, Philippines — The Mid-autumn festival is the second most important Chinese festival after the Chinese New Year. It is also called the Moon Festival because it is celebrated when the moon is the biggest and fullest on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese calendar. This year it happened last October 4 (2017 in the Georgian calendar).

Sharing and eating moon cakes is customary during the festival, because round shapes symbolize completeness, unity and reunion. The eldest in the family would cut the cakes and distribute the pieces family members. The custom has been adopted by businessmen who give it to their clients thus creating a demand for more expensive versions.

There are stories that moon cakes became an instrument in the overthrow of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The oppressed Chinese plotted to end the tyranny of the Mongols and the moon cakes were used to carry a secret message to coordinate the revolt of the Han Chinese on the 15th day of the 8th month. The leader, Zhu Yuanzhang, was a beggar who became a Buddhist monk and founded the Ming Dynasty.

The filling of the moon cake can be classified as either traditional or modern. The traditional fillings are Lotus Seed Paste, Sweet Bean Paste, Jujube Paste and Five Kernels. The yolk of salted duck’s egg is included since the egg yolk appears like the full moon after slicing. The original filling was made with the lotus seeds, but since it is expensive, paste from various seeds like azuki beans, mung bean or black beans are used instead, including the fruit of the jujube or date. The five kernels consist of nuts and seeds like peanuts, walnut, sesame, pumpkin and watermelon seeds. The “pakwan” seeds have to be extracted by machines or too many mouths and teeth would be needed, excuse me, to crack it open!

The modern filling often consists of a wide spectrum of edible materials convertible to a paste like durian, coffee, tea, chocolate, tea, bird’s nest, ginseng, shark’s fin, caviar and even truffles.

The outer portion or the crust can be chewy, flaky, tender or snow skin. Flaky is similar to our regular “hopia” while the tender crust is just like the crust in egg tart. Chewy is the most common type of crust while moon skin is made with glutinous rice and the cake is refrigerated.

Waterfront Cebu City Hotel & Casino invited a small group of us food writers to a preview the moon cakes for the celebrations of the Mid-Autumn.  At the Tin Gow Restaurant, we were given the opportunity to taste all the delicacies.  On display were the traditional types like the Lotus Cream with Salted Egg, Red Bean, Ube with Salted Egg, Green Tea with Salted Egg and Chocolate.

The new moon cake varieties presented included Cebu Mango, Calamansi with Honey, Coconut with Sesame, Ube with Tanduay, Chocolate with Cherry and Native Ube. My favorites were the Lotus Cream and Ube with the Salted Egg and the Cebu Mango moon cakes.

Delicious dim sum delights were also served. And we participated in the Chinese games similar to the family games played by Filipino-Chinese families in Cebu whose origins were from Xiamen, Fujian Province, China. (FREEMAN)

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