Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mooncakes and RC Cola

It's always fun spending your first year in a new country and having a first-hand look at the holidays that they celebrate and how they celebrate them.  For example in Germany, besides Oktoberfest, we had Fasching which was a version of Mardi Gras - only with different costumes and for a seemingly much longer time.  Our first taste of this came at the end of September with the Mid-Autumn Festival.


At Victoria Park they had this stage with a variety of performers from the community - Chinese opera, martial arts, marching bands, beat-boxing, dance team, etc.

The significance of the festival is to celebrate the end of the fall harvest and it's based on the lunar calendar (as many things are here), beginning on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (September 30, 2012).  Apparently the other significance is to keep bakeries in business selling these little pastries called "mooncakes".  There is also no shortage of brightly colored lanterns displayed in most of the public parks.  So here's my take on this holiday...



This seemed to be the main lantern - looking inspired by Epcot Center.

Basically this is a family get-together kind of holiday where you have a meal and exchange mooncakes with each other before going out to a park under the full-moon and watching a fire dragon parade.  Now allow me to elaborate on mooncakes...

Traditional mooncake with egg yolk and lotus-seed paste.  Although they are small, they're meant to be sliced and shared.  Trust me, you want to give as many away as possible.

Billboards all over the city advertised different brands of mooncake - all of them appealing to some sense of getting together with family.

The traditional mooncake is made of egg yolk and lotus seed paste.  To most Westerners this combination is not very pleasant.  Marisa described the texture as "pasty and chalky", which is pretty spot on.  It seems that the word "cake" is used loosely here as it isn't the sweetest morsel in the world.  And can we talk about the name?  It sounds like something you'd pick up in a coffee shop in Amsterdam or something.  However, I will say that these "mooncakes" don't come standard with any hallucinogenic effects.  Nowadays more bakeries are moving away from the traditional flavors and moving to more appetizing ones like: mango, strawberry, chocolate, red bean paste, grape, and pistachio.  We bought a box of 12.....which I should add is quite an experience in itself - the grocery stores have salespeople on hand to help you make the best selection for your taste and pack them up in fancy carrier bags - but we went with frozen ones (a.k.a. "snowy mooncakes") with flavors that are more likely to be included in Baskin Robbins' 31 flavors.

Our box of "snowy mooncakes" with a commemorative tin.  They're a bit pricey though - about 140 HK$ or 14 Euros or $18 (U.S.).

 One of the strawberry-yogurt mooncakes...they're not too bad, but it's not like ice-cream cake or anything.

 As I mentioned before, the parks are loaded with traditional lanterns and themed displays made from a tent-like material lit from inside.  We visited Victoria Park on Hong Kong island and were pleasantly entertained for about an hour, walking around the light displays.  We also tried to track down the "fire dragon dance", but only caught the "tail-end" - pun intended.  Literally, we peeked through the crowds to catch a glimpse of about 30 guys dancing down the street, holding some sort of grassy-looking dragon covering that was lit at the ends - kind of like a bunch of incense sticks or something like that.  It's difficult to describe with words, and unfortunately I wasn't able to take a picture either.




Loved this guy standing on a barrel, blindfolded, throwing knives at a target 10 yards away.  Serious Shao-Lin kind of stuff.



The holiday comes and goes, but we were certainly glad to catch a glimpse of the festivities and we look forward to the next one - perhaps Chinese New Year?

It turned out to also be China's National Day on October 1st, so we got to watch tons of fireworks over the harbor.  Sadly, it was also an infamous evening due to a deadly ferry crash on the other side of the island.

--Justin

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