I just got home a little while ago from one of my tutoring classes and am eating a bowl of tom yam, a spicy, citrusy Thai soup that I talked about on this blog months ago. I don't have it often, but I always enjoy it when I do! I thought I'd write a quick blog entry while I eat...
So just in case National Day, Ramadan, and the Hungry Ghost Festival weren't enough, we're also observing the Mooncake Festival here in KL. And just for fun, it's also Nuzul Quran today, yet another public holiday here, a Muslim holiday commemorating, I think, God giving Mohammed the Qu'ran. Also, on top of all of that, Saturday (September 5th) was my one-year anniversary in Malaysia. Oddly, it didn't make the calendars here, but I'm sure it was just an oversight.
One year in KL... I can hardly believe it's been that long. It's one of those things where it seems to have flown by, yet thinking of things from my early days here feels like it was so long ago.
I'm heading back to the other side of the world soon for a visit, and I'm taking some Chinese mooncakes with me to give to friends and family. I may need to try a few different kinds of these things before I do that... they're a bit unorthodox to a Westerner. Remember the dim sum from the last entry? The place we ate was one in the Tai Thong group of restaurants here; supposedly, their mooncakes are quite good, so I bought four of them. I did try one of them already, but it's one of the newer varieties, not a traditional "old-school" mooncake. It was a snow skin type (white crust made from glutinous rice paste) with tiramisu filling. I can tell you, it didn't really taste like tiramisu, but it was delicious. A thick chocolate-like paste (someone assured me it wasn't chocolate at all, but rather a sweet red bean paste) surrounded this firm green center, which may or may not have been a duck's egg yolk, dyed green (probably not... more on the egg yolk thing later). This particular type of mooncake must be refrigerated, so that one had to be eaten here. The rest that I bought are the more traditional types and don't require refrigeration. Dinner's over, so I'm about to try another one here and have taken a couple of pictures of it to share with you!
But first, what is a mooncake and why are they eaten? So glad you asked!
As many cultures have calendars based on the lunar cycle, the Chinese being among the most well-known of these, it stands to reason that the moon itself is a particularly auspicious symbol. In Chinese culture, the eighth lunar month is set aside for lunar worship and moon watching. On the fifteenth day of this month, the Mid-Autumn Festival is held. Mooncakes are such an integral part of this festival, that it's become colloquially known as the Mooncake Festival. The traditional mooncake has a thin pastry-like crust that's been imprinted with the Chinese characters for longevity and harmony, a thick, dense filling made from lotus seed paste or red bean paste, and in the center, a salted duck egg yolk, which symbolizes the moon. Yes, a "salted egg yolk" sounds odd to me, too, but they're hugely popular here. In the markets, I see boxes of eggs packed in damp, salted charcoal. The eggs can also be soaked in brine. Over about a two-week period, this salt-cures the egg, and the yolk solidifies and becomes bright, deep orange in color. From that point, the egg can be boiled or steamed and eaten or mixed with other foods. And as you now know, the yolk can also be put into a mooncake! It sounds a bit weird, I know, but I've come to realize that a culture that's been around for 5,000 years is bound to know a few things about a few things! Besides, Americans put egg yolks in their cakes, too, right? Sure, they're mixed up and cooked, but they're still there, right?
The mooncake I'm eating now does not have a yolk in the center, unfortunately... I was hoping to try one. This one has a filling of green tea and lotus seed paste, and it's wonderful, much to my dismay... rather hard to stop eating it. It's very dense, and only slightly sweet... quite nice to cut into thin slices and eat along with a cup of green tea. Tragically, I've managed to eat nearly half of it as I've been sitting here writing. Curse you, evil mooncake!! (Here's a great blurb about the Tai Thong mooncakes I bought, along with all the new flavors they've introduced this year... they really are excellent.)
Anyway, that's about all for now... just a short entry to share the joy of mooncakes with everyone. More to come soon!