Tomorrow is Mid-Autumn Festival on the Chinese Lunar calendar, a statutory holiday in many Asian countries celebrating the harvest moon.*
The occasion is usually celebrated by making offerings of food (roast chicken and pyramids of oranges are popular) and other auspicious symbols at the altars of various Chinese gods in thanks for another year of abundant harvest. (Nowadays this is just done metaphorically to give thanks re: a rewarding career, growth of the family, a raise / promotion, etc.)
People also celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival by way of making and lighting lanterns to represent the full moon, as well as eating and sharing moon-shaped foods (this, of course, being my favourite method of celebration).
I remember when I was young, my mother would carefully score the thick peel of a Chinese pomelo, extracting the large, pulpy slices for me to further dissect with my fingers and teeth. (Imagine a white grapefruit at 200% actual size with somewhat drier flesh, big pulp and thick membranes. Sometimes I could stretch the eating of one slice of pomelo over an hour or more, by eating it one individual pulp at a time.)
Mom would save the pomelo peel, dry it, and let me make a lantern shell out of it (kind of like this guy’s), after which I’d enjoy a walk through my neighbourhood in the chilly fall night air, lit only by passing cars, the moon and me. In some ways, I guess Mid-Autumn Festival is a bit like Halloween.
Getting back to celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival with food, one age-old popular treat is mooncake. In this regard, Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake is like Christmas fruitcake – not a lot of people eat it, the ingredients are off-putting, the texture’s odd, but those who like it, like it a lot.
Traditionally, mooncakes consist of a salted duck egg yolk, encased in a blob of lotus seed or red bean paste, this combination wrapped around a thin but mostly lard-based dough, all of which is pressed into a mould to emboss the savoury-sweet brick with messages or pictures of good luck, happiness and the proud Chinese bakery’s name that made it:
Mooncakes have since evolved into more modern manifestations of lunar dessert: Many people now prefer a glutinous rice-shelled version, the innards of which can vary from ice cream (think Japanese mochi) to fruit-based pastes: Dates, mango, pineapple, and so forth. Personally, I prefer the traditional mooncake made with lotus seed paste but with two egg yolks (mooncakes can hold up to four).
So what alcoholic beverage would one pair with mooncake (the traditional kind)?
Many websites and documents I’ve come across recommend icewine, Sauternes or late harvest wines. I can see why: Sweet and viscous, these are heady enough to be tasted through the edible paperweight that is mooncake. Also, Asians love icewine.
For me, however, enjoying mooncake is more about getting through the density and the texture of the filling. Sweetness is a good quality in the potential matching drink, but the drink’s got to have a contrasting mouthfeel as opposed to further slickness and viscosity that a sweet or fortified wine would provide.
Therefore, I’m looking for a full-bodied, optionally medium to medium-high in sweetness, preferably effervescent libation to match my mooncake. May I suggest…
My Mooncake Moonshine List
- Apricot Lambic
- Guinness Stout
- Cream Ale
- Kir Royale (Champagne over crème de cassis)
- Sparkling Shiraz
Try one of these suggestions this weekend and let me know what you think!
* Speaking of moons, here’s a funny anecdote: Mid-Autumn Festival is always held, literally, smack dab in the middle of the Chinese lunar year’s autumn season (Months 7, 8 and 9), on the fifteenth day of the eighth month (each Chinese lunar month having 30 days). A Cantonese slang expression for “derrière” is baat yuet sup ng, or “Month 8 Day 15″… Cheeky, isn’t it?