Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Shine On, Harvest Moon: by Pamela Sherwood

September 19 marks this year's Mid-Autumn Festival. Held on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, during the full moon, this traditional Chinese festival celebrates a successful harvest, close family ties, and hopes for the future. Friends and family gather together to express thanks for their good fortune and (being only human) to pray for a little bit more, whether in conceptual or material form (wealth,  health, longevity, a spouse, children, a book contract . . . well, you get the idea!)

Lotus Seed Mooncake with Egg Yolk, photo by avlxyz

Chinese culture being what it is, food is, of course, involved. Particularly mooncakes--rich, dense pastries boasting a variety of fillings, including lotus paste, red bean paste, taro, nuts and seeds, ham, and candied melon. Some also contain yolks of salted duck eggs for additional richness, though those are something of an acquired taste! Insanely caloric, mooncakes are traditionally cut into pieces, distributed among a gathering of family and friends, and consumed while watching the full moon.  Quite a nice ritual as rituals go!

My family tends to celebrate the Moon Festival a bit sporadically.  Some years we remember, others we find ourselves so busy that the occasion slips our mind until it's past. The fact that it's a floating celebration that can occur in either September or October only adds to the confusion. This year, however, we remembered. So we set out over Labor Day weekend for the valley ranch market, where mooncakes could be found in great profusion. We bought two boxes, one with lotus paste filling, the other with 5-Ren--or kernel--filling.


But that wasn't all the ranch market had to offer. Its fish department boasted a wide selection of sushi-grade seafood--almost odorless, I noticed, which is generally a good sign. Tanks filled with live tilapia, catfish, lobsters, and crabs provided further evidence of freshness. Customers jonesing for seafood had their choice of frozen, fresh . . .




  . . . and very fresh!



Call me squeamish, but I prefer my fish to have stopped wriggling when I buy it! So I passed on the live crustaceans in favor of some dim sum, little Chinese dumplings with sweet or savory fillings.


No trip to the ranch market would be complete without a stop at Sam Woo's--the Chinese barbecue place a few doors down. Here you can find succulent spareribs and chashu (barbecued pork), golden soy-sauce chicken, roast duck, and even a side of roast pig, covered in rich brown crackling!


The moon festival might have been almost three weeks away, but why pass up the opportunity for a feast? Laden with groceries, including the all-important mooncakes, we headed back towards the west side, thrilled to have enough food to get us through the week.

So, now it lacks only twenty-four hours to make it official. Wishing all of you a happy,  harmonious, and prosperous Mid-Autumn Festival! May the moon smile upon you!

11 comments:

  1. Your market photos remind me of the fish market I visited in Tokyo. Aside from the writhing seafood, I saw some of the angriest-looking vegetables I'd ever seen. Wasabi is wicked!

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  2. Oh, my...what fun to travel with you for a day! And may the moon beams bring you happiness and good luck the whole year!

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  3. Mia, the produce at the ranch market was a bit unsettling too. I didn't see wasabi (though I'll take your word about its appearance), but I saw jack fruit, which looked like a hairy melon covered in warts, and ramadan, which resembled purplish-red sea urchins!

    Carolyn, glad you enjoyed being a virtual traveler on our ranch market excursion. Happy Mid-Autumn festival to you!

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  4. What a fun festival--well, not for the animals! I'll just take rice, thank you. :-)

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  5. Hi Pamela, your pictures sure bring back memories of growing up. Our family used to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival every year, but like you said life gets hectic and with the changing calendar dates every year, does get confusing!

    Looking at all your food finds sure makes me hungry! I especially love eating the moon cakes with red bean paste and the double egg yolks! YUM!! Also I loved walking around with the paper lanterns at night with my sister and cousins when I was little. It was so much fun to get different shaped animal lanterns, unlike the standard shaped ones in stores now-a-days. Those were the days......Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to you and thanks for the trip down memory lane! :-)

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  6. Shana, the animals definitely get the short end of the stick. Fortunately, there are vegetarian options!

    Anita H., celebrations of autumn and the harvest are prevalent in so many cultures. And feasting is practically a given, if you're Chinese. Glad you enjoyed the memories--Happy Moon Festival to you!

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  7. Wow, now I'm hungry. And o think I've never eaten a moon cake watching the full moon. Add that to the bucket list!

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  8. Amanda, you might be able to find mooncakes at an Asian grocery store or bakery! Or visit Godiva, which is claiming to carry chocolate mooncakes in honor of the festival.

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  9. Happy Moon Festival, Pamela! Much to my parents eternal chagrin, I am not a fan of Moon cakes. Whenever we break them out, alls I want is the egg yolk, I can't really stomach the taste of it. My mother tries to convince me that because I'm Chinese, it's in my blood but apparently it skipped me lol But oh, love me some dim sum. At least I got that right!

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  10. Sounds like a terrific festival! My only problem with markets like that is that none of them are close enough to home for me to stock up the way I'd like. Which is probably for the best...
    Great post!

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  11. Ada, mooncakes tend to be like fruitcakes--some people love 'em, some people hate 'em. But I've yet to meet anyone, Chinese or otherwise, who doesn't at least like some form of dim sum! Happy Mid-Autumn festival!

    Cheryl, ranch markets like the one I went to have become increasingly rare. There used to be one in downtown LA, but it closed due to rent issues. I did get lucky while I was in grad school because I found a small Asian market that stocked some of the things I craved. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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