For Mid-Autumn Festival (September 15, 2016), my sister and I have a ritual of sitting down at the family kitchen table and sharing a lotus seed moon cake with two yolks. We take a sharp knife and carefully divide the cake into equal portions, with her eating the parts with the yolk, and me eating the yolk-less sections. It’s a perfect moment of togetherness for marking the Festival.
A variety of Asian cultures (eg Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese) celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. The day, characterized by a full moon, highlights unity and reunion, as well as gratitude for the abundant harvest of the season.
Here in Richmond, Mid-Autumn Festival is a joyous tribute to family and good eating, with a wealth of sweets available in stores and restaurants around the city. Here are five types of treats to get you started for your festivities:
In Chinese tradition, moon cakes play a pivotal role in the symbolism of the Festival, with their round shape associated with wholeness, harmony, and the harvest moon. Traditionally, they have a thin exterior crust, and an interior of red bean or lotus seed paste (often with salted egg yolks). However, over time, the different types of moon cakes have grown exponentially, alongside the creativity of pastry chefs and the palates of consumers. Richmond definitely boasts a wide and delicious selection.
You can’t miss the moon cake display when you walk into Osaka Supermarket (1000-3700 No. 3 Road).
Boxes upon boxes are piled on top of one another, with brightly coloured lanterns hung above them. The range of cakes is impressive, including ones with egg custard, mixed nuts and flowers, durian paste, pineapple, dried scallop with two yolks, ham and nuts, and custard with gold flakes (if you like moon cake with bling). You can also buy novelty moon cakes molded into various shapes, such as pigs or panda faces.
In the freezer section, you’ll find crystal or snowy moon cakes, which are cold non-baked cakes that have a glutinous rice skin and various specialty fillings (eg durian, mango).
Renowned chocolatiers Dominique and Cindy Duby of Wild Sweets (2145-12191 Hammersmith Way) are always pushing the envelope when it comes to innovative treats. This year, they’re releasing an exciting east-meets-west play on moon cake titled, “2016 Limited Edition Chocolate Art ‘Moon Cakes’ Bouchées.”
Their inside contents feature buttery and crunchy French sablé Breton cookies, in addition to ingredients like red dates, red beans, and green tea, as well as soft ganache with fruit-based liquid caramels (eg orange zest). The entire moon cake is enrobed in dark chocolate and decorated with an almond paste disc and a hand-painted design with cocoa butter. See the website for pick-up/shipping options.
Saint Germain Bakery (1428-4151 Hazelbridge Way, Aberdeen Centre) features a variety of more traditional baked moon cakes, such as single yolk with red bean paste, and single yolk with pork and mixed nuts, as well as four snowy versions (sesame cream, strawberry cheese, honey chestnut, and durian cream).
If you’re fan of the snowy moon cakes, La Patisserie (2-6360 No. 3 Road) has a wide selection of them, in addition to moon cakes with lotus seed paste, custard, nuts, and red bean paste. They have nine frozen moon cakes to choose from: durian, taro, green bean with yolk, red bean paste, green tea, strawberry, pumpkin, chocolate, and black sesame. Pre-order to ensure you get your preferred flavour.
Mid-Autumn Festival, however, is not just about enjoying slivers of rich moon cake. Because osmanthus are in full glorious bloom in China during the Festival, it is customary to enjoy wine or cake that features the fragrance of their flowers.
Restaurants in Richmond, such as Vivacity Restaurant (110-8351 Alexandra Road)) and Shiang Garden Seafood Restaurant (1200-4540 No. 3 Road), serve osmanthus jelly, often with other fruits and ingredients, like coconut, lychee, or wolfberries.
Steeped in legend, pumpkin represents the bounty of the harvest and is also purported to bring good luck. Maple Castella Bakery (1068-8700 McKim Way) is known for their Taiwanese pumpkin toast (nangua tusi), which consists of ultra fluffy sweet white bread with swirls of mashed “pumpkin” (actually kabocha squash) inside and pumpkin seeds on top. It’s so delectably soft that slices will disappear in an instant.
This juicy citrus fruit is a staple of Mid-Autumn Festival because of the significance of its large round shape (more wholeness), its seasonality in the fall, and its association with prayers for youth. Pick up the fresh fruit at Osaka Supermarket or at another fruit shop, like Kin’s Farm Market (176-8180 No. 2 Road; 105-7820 Williams Road; 1460A-6551 No. 3 Road). You can also enjoy a refreshing “House Special” drink, containing pomelo, mango, coconut, and tapioca pearls at 8 Juice (3150-4151 Hazelbridge Way, Aberdeen Centre).
Believed to ward away bad luck, taro apparently first became popular for the Mid-Autumn Festival during the Qing Dynasty.
Sweet ways to enjoy taro in Richmond are numerous and include a taro bun from Kam Do Bakery (130-6211 No. 3 Road), sponge taro cake at Mega Bakery (1163-3779 Sexsmith Road), taro and coconut milk soup with tapioca pearls at Hoitong Chinese Seafood Restaurant (155-8191 Westminster Highway), and taro bubble tea at Leisure Tea & Coffee (1110-8391 Alexandra Road).
And don’t forget to share your Mid-Autumn Festival treats with loved ones. These sweets are especially delicious and auspicious when eaten in good company!