Mooncakes come wrapped in culture
As the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival approaches - this year celebrated on Sept 15 - mooncakes are turning up all over China, from very traditional teashops to Starbucks counters.
The holiday is one of China's four most important festivals, and in the weeks before the date arrives, top hotels get into the spirit with lavish treats in lovely packaging. Traditionally, the cookie-sized round pastry has a rich thick filling usually made from red-bean or lotus-seed paste and covered by a thin crust. It may also contain yolks from salted duck eggs, integrating a beautiful savory tinge into the sugary taste. Fillings and crusts have become more diverse over time, especially in the hands of skilled pastry chefs.
The moon in Chinese culture represents nostalgia and homesickness, and the top crust of each moon-shaped pastry is generally imprinted with the Chinese characters for longevity or harmony - and often the name of the bakery and the filling.
This year, the fancy gift boxes that have long driven the mooncake trade are particularly striking and rich with tradition.
For example, the Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai, built in 1929 and a magnet for Hollywood celebrities in the 1930s, has prepared a selection of mooncake gift boxes with designs inspired by the beauty and elegance of the hotel's famous art deco style. The simplest box of four pieces (red-bean paste, creamy custard, plain cheese, green-bean paste) is 198 yuan ($29.64), while more lavish selections of five or six pieces, including mooncakes with egg yolk, run up to 338 yuan for a box.
Beijing's Nuo Hotel, meanwhile, has created Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) inspired mooncake gift packs based on the design of porcelain vases in the hotel lobby, with the essence of landscape painting using Zhang Dai's poetic passages to depict the peaceful harmony of man and nature. The box of six is 158 yuan, and includes mooncakes ranging from cheese mango to charcoal burning fragrant Pu'er tea and white lotus with egg yolk. A box of eight cakes of different flavors is 228 yuan.
Peace Hotel in Shanghai has prepared a selection of mooncake gift boxes with an art deco touch. Provided To China Daily