Every year the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in Singapore. Colorful lanterns line the streets, festive floats bob in the waterways, malls have big sales, and the locals are entertained with parades, fireworks, and concerts. The star of the show is the moon, which is at its brightest on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese Lunar calendar. To mark the occasion, mooncakes descend upon Singapore like a blizzard.
A mooncake is a pastry that's filled with a dense, flavorful filling. The pastry can be either a baked pastry dough or a delicate rice flour dough (known as a snow skin pastry and often festively colored). Flavors of mooncake fillings include chestnut, strawberry, durian, red bean, ham, nut, soursop, black glutinous rice pudding, kaffir lime, green tea, white or red lotus paste, and sesame. There are also ice cream mooncakes, and even boozy mooncakes spiked with Baileys Irish Cream or Champagne. Though traditional flavors such as red bean and white lotus are mainstays, pastry chefs all over town try to outdo each other every year with new flavor creations. Mooncakes are not cheap. The average price is SG$50 to SG$60 for four mooncakes.
During the festival, mooncakes are everywhere—grocery stores, cafes, malls, hotels, and restaurants. If you want a mooncake, you'll have no trouble finding one. But you probably won't keep it for yourself. It's a tradition to give mooncakes as a gift this time of year to friends, family, and business associates, although I'm not sure if you're supposed to reciprocate if you're given a mooncake. (I gave our apartment building's security guard some mooncakes as a present and the very next day she gave me a gift in return.)
What makes mooncakes special is that they're made specifically for the Mid-Autumn Festival. You get about a month to catch them before the festival ends (this year then festival ended on September 19). One day late? Unluckily for you, you'll have to wait until next year.
Since I missed my last two chances to take part in the mooncake festivities (due to really poor planning), I was not going to let another slip away. I dove right in and got a great taste of a unique tradition and some tasty mooncakes along the way.
About the author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of the new cookbook One Bowl Baking: Simple From Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts (Running Press, October 2013), also available at Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell's, and The Book Depository. Watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. Follow her Chocoholic, Chicken Dinners, Singapore Stories and Let Them Eat Cake columns on Serious Eats. Follow Yvonne on Twitter as she explores Singapore.