中秋節 – Mid-Autumn Festival

Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a Chinese celebration of the harvest and the full moon. On Saturday, my roommate and I traveled to Chinatown to buy moon cakes for the occasion. We first met a friend of mine who goes to Caltech for lunch at Sam Woo, where we ate braised fish with tofu (a dish which included, to our surprise, a fair amount of pork), green beans with minced pork, and beef pan-fried noodles with pickled vegetable.

We then walked to Phoenix Bakery for the moon cakes. The bakery sells quite an assortment of pastries and confections, from French-style viennoiseries to mochi ice cream, from enormous frosted cakes covered with sliced almonds to savory buns and dim sum items. And moon cakes, of course! What’s more, they were 25% off!

They had the traditional red bean paste and lotus seed paste fillings I like, so I bought one of each, both without egg yolks inside. The moon cakes were labeled in Chinese and had quite poetic names. The lotus seed one was marked 雙鳳蓮蓉月 (shuāngfèng liánróng yuè), which means “double phoenix lotus seed paste moon.” (The character for lotus, 蓮, is in my Chinese name.) My roommate’s lotus seed moon cake with two egg yolks was labeled 雙黃 (shuānghuáng), “double yellow” instead of “double phoenix.” To my surprise, the red bean paste moon cake was labeled 玫瑰豆沙月 (méiguī dòushā yuè), which means “rugosa rose bean paste moon.” I’m not sure why a red bean moon cake is called rose. Maybe because roses can be red?

We waited until Monday, the day of the festival, to taste the moon cakes. Both the red bean and the lotus seed were very good.

Red bean paste moon cake

Red bean paste moon cake

Lotus seed paste moon cake

Lotus seed paste moon cake

Blurry inside of lotus seed paste moon cake

Blurry inside of lotus seed paste moon cake

Since I figured it would be a long time before I had another chance to visit a Chinese bakery, I bought a couple of other things too. First, a baked barbecued pork bun, which I hadn’t had in ages and which tasted exactly how I remembered.

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Second, a rice dumpling (粽子 – zòngzi), which the bakery called a Chinese tamale. It’s a packet of sticky rice filled with pork, Chinese sausage, a salted egg yolk, and other tidbits (I’m accustomed to mushroom and peanuts, but this one had neither and I think had mung beans), the whole thing wrapped in bamboo or lotus leaves and tied with string. Zongzi are associated with the summer Dragon Boat Festival, but I will happily eat them whenever. They are so good. My great-grandmother used to make them.

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Sadly, when we visited, the bakery didn’t seem to have any egg tarts, the delicious yellow custards in flaky crust that you can get at dim sum. If there had been any, I definitely would have bought one. Or several.

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3 thoughts on “中秋節 – Mid-Autumn Festival

  1. I think the first two Chinese characters for the red bean paste moon cake merely says ‘rose’. I wonder where the dictionary is getting rugosa rose from? Rugosa roses are native to China and Japan, and have distinctive foliage. The best known cultivar, though, is French in origin and is named Blanc Double de Coubert. It is white and divinely fragrant.

    • I was using my favorite online Chinese dictionary, and it translated those two characters as a word as “rugosa rose” or “rose flower.” I thought rugosa rose sounded more impressive. I think I know what you mean about the foliage; it’s sort of rough, right?

  2. Rugose is Latin for rough and wrinkled. I wouldn’t describe rugosa rose leaves as that; they are prominently veined but in a symmetrical pattern; however, the leaves are very distinct from that of most other roses.

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