Moon Festival 2019

Dr. Nestor Alonso II (The Freeman) - September 13, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important festival in China, next only to 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, we can watch the full moon tonight, Friday the 13th.

The festival is carried over from the custom of worshiping the Moon Goddess during the Zhou Dynasty in China some 3,000 years ago. This practice is sustained by the succeeding Chinese Emperors who believe worshiping the harvest moon in autumn will bring a bountiful harvest the following year.

The tradition of eating mooncakes during the festival began in the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The consumption of mooncakes and sharing it became popular because round shapes symbolize completeness, unity and reunion. The eldest in the family would cut the cake and distribute the pieces to family members. This was adopted by businessmen who gave it to their clients creating a demand for more expensive versions of mooncake.

There are stories that the mooncakes became a tool to overthrow of Yuan Dynasty. It was supposedly used to carry secret message to coordinate the revolt of the Han Chinese on the 15th day of the 8th month. Their leader, Zhu Yuanzhang, was a Buddhist monk and founded the Ming Dynasty.

Waterfront Cebu City Hotel & Casino invited me to preview the mooncakes for the celebrations of the 2019 Mid-Autumn.  At the Tim Gow Restaurant, several versions were displayed: Red Bean, Green Tea, Lotus, Black Sesame and, my favorite, Coffee mooncake. I did miss the Lotus Cream with Salted Duck Egg served in 2017 where the egg yolk appeared like the “full moon.”

GM Anders Hallden ordered a Mooncake Festival Media Lunch where the first entry was the Hot and Cold Prawn Salad. The cold appetizer looked like a fruit salad and is placed on a bowl surrounded by the deep-fried prawns. (This dish was among my favorites in the defunct Lumpia House Fine Dining in the 80s.) Two dim sum dishes followed, Pork Siomai and Shrimp Dumpling (Har-Gow).

The fourth course was Beef Kway Teow, a flat rice noodle dish topped with slices of beef, and popular in Malaysia and Singapore.  I was in Malaysia before the Petronas Twin Towers were built and that trip exposed my palate to diverse forms of Chinese cuisine (Teochew, Nonya, Hakka, Hokkien).  I also realized that if I could not eat chilies or at least tolerate its hotness, I could not eat half of the dishes found in those two countries.

The next two dishes served were the Salt and Pepper Spare Ribs and Spring Rolls. GM Anders informed me that in China, it is a “must” for mooncakes to be given to friends, relatives and clients. This has led to the creation of more varieties including the newest, the Ice Cream Mooncake – the cooling and refreshing taste makes it popular among the younger generation.  It has a crust made with chocolate and has a filling with any ice cream flavor you desire.

Closing the working lunch was the Chinese Fried Sesame Balls.

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