Sweet autumn delights

THE Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is not only a time for moon gazing and romantic lantern walks. It is also a time to indulge in the decadent sweetness of the mooncake.

Only available between July and September, these fat, round pastries are filled to the brim with dense delicious fillings. Such is their richness that diners are only able to consume small wedges of these cakes at one time.

When the Chinese immigrated to Malaya in droves during the mid-18th century, they brought this sweet sticky delight along.

Mouth-watering varieties: From the traditional to the novel, there are now so many types of mooncakes

Of the other varieties of mooncakes, there is the Teochew version which is recognisable by its outer yam covering and pork filling. This uncommon mooncake is delicious when eaten hot off the wok.

More popular is the northern Chinese style with fillings of pine nuts, almonds and pork ham and is also known locally as the “wedding biscuit”, although it will take on a flatter shape on such an occasion.

There is also the Shanghai mooncake with a hard biscuit-like covering and a lotus paste and yolk filling.

Lum Tuck Loy, 64, chairman of Selangor Restaurant Keeper’s Association, has studied the mooncake industry during the early post-Merdeka years. The father of six who started making mooncakes at the age of 16 at Yuk Woo Hin, a Chinese restaurant at Petaling Street, recalled that there were only two main types of fillings in the market during the 1960s – lotus paste and red bean.

Popular: The northern China version of the mooncake is very similar to the ‘wedding biscuit’

Touching on the ping peh mooncake (snowy covering made of rice flour and sugar paste which does not require baking), there is a general misconception that it emerged only during the 1980s.

According to Lum, it was already present as far back as the 1960s.

“The ping peh was rather rare in the beginning as it was only made after the bakers had finished with their batch of baked mooncakes for the season. I remember that we only made it one or two days before the festival day and it was only distributed among the workers and close friends,” he says.

In contrast to the array of shapes, flavours and colours of today, the original ping peh only came in white and was filled with lotus, green bean or red bean paste.

However, its sudden proliferation in the market during the 1980s may be linked to the advancement of retail-style refrigeration units which made it possible for vendors to stock the ping peh.

But more endearing than the ping peh are the sweet chewy dough figurines in cute animal shapes. For the Chinese, no childhood memory will be complete without these sweet treats from their elders.

Made from the very same dough used for mooncake pastry, these edible animals were made after the bakers found that they had leftover dough. These were quickly transformed into piglets, lions or fishes to make the children happy.

Cute: Animal figures from leftover dough