COMMENTARY, Aug 30 — The Mid-Autumn festival is slightly less than a month away.
This year, when I asked my colleagues for their mooncake recommendations I was surprised by their reactions.
One said he was more into the traditions behind the festival. Moreover he wasn't a fan of mooncakes in KL. Instead he admitted to being a fan of mooncakes from down south.
The other one outright told me he doesn't eat mooncakes.
Fair enough, I must admit I was once like both of them. Jaded by the offerings in the Klang Valley and yes, they were sweet and just very "meh" to me.
Tuck Chan is unique for their own-made lotus paste and red bean paste where each mooncake is made by hand — Picture by Choo Choy May
As a child, I loved the tradition of the Mid-Autumn festival. Fond memories of joining my neighbours for the lantern walk under the moonlight are etched in my brain forever.
When I grew older, it became just a tradition we celebrated as my sister's lunar birthday fell on the festival. Till today, it's an occasion where we try to get together to celebrate family.
As the years passed, mooncakes weren't a big thing for me. That was until I started work in a food magazine.
It was the most important feature that our readers would look forward to. Usually, they will use the recipes to make their own Mid-Autumn mooncakes.
The intricacies of making a mooncake made me appreciate how much work was behind each mooncake.
You start by cooking the lotus paste, then you make the skin. You need deftness to wrap the two together and place it in the mould. Believe me I tried before and my butter fingers failed and I found they fared better holding a pen for words. Even knocking out the mooncake requires know-how.
Leonard Lee is reviving his family's legacy with Seong Ying Chai that opens only to fulfil mooncake orders for the Mid-Autumn festival — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
For the recipes, we did traditional as well as new fangled ones. My favourite were the savoury mooncakes. It opened my eyes to the fact that mooncakes weren't just a super sweet confection.
I also had a soft spot for the jelly mooncakes. Maybe because they tasted lighter and more suitable for the tropical weather, even though they aren't traditional.
They weren't featured in the magazine while I worked there but much earlier. I was one of the readers who faithfully followed the recipes by Debbie Teoh to create them at home.
At the same time, it felt like all the mooncakes that appeared in the office were from hotels.
These mooncakes were more like an annual fashion show of what's trending. Packaging was what they prized since these were mostly given as gifts.
I'm the kind who loves aesthetics so this initially appealed to me. One of the renowned brands was Shangri-La as not only were the mooncakes of a high quality, the packaging was gorgeous.
Fook Pan Food Industries have made a name for themselves with their chocolate mooncakes — Picture by Lee Khang Yi
Till today, I still buy the mixed nuts with the orange peel from them as it is my all-time favourite. And of course, the packaging is elegant for gifting.
Maybe I had an overload of packaging but at one time, I felt the meaning of mooncakes was kinda lost. I was chanting the same thing my colleagues did... mooncakes are expensive, sweet and just all about the packaging.
The disillusionment with mooncakes continued even after I started working at Malay Mail.
It took another colleague's enthusiasm to get me back on track with the true meaning of mooncakes.
He is from Seri Kembangan and his earnest recommendation of "the best mooncakes" took me down the rabbit hole at Tuck Chan. (https://www.malaymail.com/news/eat/drink/2013/09/14/mooncakes-the-traditional-way/524255)
My "wow" moment at Tuck Chan was when I saw them toiling over large woks of their own lotus paste and red bean paste. Having followed many recipe making sessions, I know how back breaking the work is. Hence, many go the path of convenience to buy their lotus paste off the shelf.
If you prefer a less sweet tasting mooncake, assorted nuts is the way to go for the Mid-Autumn festival — Picture by Lee Khang Yi
It's that taste of yesteryear that you won't find in any modern day packaging.
I realised those who kept steadfast to the old ways are the ones who are most inspiring. Like Leonard Lee who decided to revive his family's legacy of mooncakes at Seong Ying Chai. https://www.malaymail.com/news/eat/drink/2018/09/16/reviving-a-60-year-old-mooncake-brand-in-the-heart-of-kls-chinatown/1672811
The latest mooncake maker that bowled me over was last year's Fook Pan Food Industries. https://www.malaymail.com/news/eat-drink/2022/08/22/for-this-mid-autumn-festival-savour-the-ultimate-artisanal-mooncake-from-jalan-ipohs-fook-pan-food-industries/23996 We didn't even know they existed until a story popped up in the South China Morning Post. What a hidden gem.
I do realise there's a lot of disillusionment about the Mid-Autumn festival but I am the forever optimist. In fact, when faced with a brick wall, I just think of a way to create my own happiness.
Maybe that is how my friends have now started a fun way to enjoy the festivities.... by holding our own tasting party of mooncakes.
Shangri-La mooncakes, especially the assorted nuts with sun dried fruits, are a good choice — Picture by Lee Khang Yi
It's not the conventional moon watching party, sipping on Chinese tea from delicate cups. Instead, we just gather at my friend's place so we can drink tea or even hand brewed coffee while we try out mooncakes.
As each one of us contributes the mooncakes, it's like gifting but we take it a step further since we get to try each other's choices. It's also a great way to know which ones to buy for next year's celebrations.
So maybe this year, start your own tradition to rediscover what you love about mooncakes and the Mid-Autumn festival. It could be a tiny change but it's one small step towards something better.
Footnote: These are my favourite mooncakes, sampled through the years. If you are clueless about where to start with mooncakes, maybe give these a shot?
My mother is a big fan of this type of assorted nuts mooncakes. I don't blame her as I also find them satisfying since they aren't too sweet.
Sadly, not many stick to the traditional way, as they wish to cater to a bigger crowd by going pork free.
My pick is always the Kam Tui (Assorted Fruits, Nuts and Ham) mooncake from TK Bakery as it's chock full of nuts and with that subtle yet distinct taste of ham.
Even though it is catered for the mass market, the bakery has upheld their standards throughout the years. In fact, we often buy items from there as it's been my family's go-to place for egg tarts and coconut buns since I was young.
Back then when we visited my aunt who lived in Petaling Street, we would always drop by their small stall inside Lai Foong Restaurant to grab some tea-time goodies or buns to bring to school.
You can order TK Bakery's mooncakes at their outlets or purchase it online on https://www.tk2you.com/en/category/ctgrmooncake
If you're looking for mooncakes to give to family and friends, the ones from Shangri-La are a great choice for packaging and taste.
My pick is always Shangri-La's Assorted Nuts and Sun-Dried Fruits mooncake. This one has a more preserved orange peel taste though.
The conventional lotus paste mooncakes are also good and not too sweet.
You can browse through the offerings on their website https://boutique.shangri-la.com/shop.php?cat=Mid%20Autumn%20Festival%20®ion=mykl&lang=en
Restaurant 195 mooncakes are special as their snowskin is soft while the lotus paste has a silky smooth texture — Picture by Lee Khang Yi
Since I discovered Restaurant 195's (formerly Chef Choi) mooncakes, I have been hooked as their lotus paste is super smooth and fine.
I buy them for gifts, spreading a little happiness to others. I like the baked ones as well as the snowskin variants.
But I secretly confess a deep love for the snowskin mooncake as it is the one I tuck in the back of the refrigerator and savour each bite as a treat.
Do note the mooncakes are available for pre-orders and you can get them delivered to you.
You can pre-order the mooncakes at www.restaurant195.com or contact Pei Yan at 012-3285111 or Vicky Sim at 012-6111403
Fook Pan Food Industries has various mooncakes that are tasty bites like their assorted nuts, chocolate and snowskin variants with coffee, lychee and even chocolate mint or strawberry — Picture by Lee Khang Yi
Fook Pan Food Industries
I had an epiphany last year with their mooncakes after meeting them for the article. The chocolate mooncakes are unique indeed with a fragrant chocolate taste.
What stuck in my brain was their snowskin mooncakes, especially the latte flavoured one. The coffee taste was so deep that it remains strongly in my taste memory.
Even the lychee was good, not too cloying sweet but it draws you in with its heady fragrance. I also liked the chocolate strawberry and chocolate mint flavours.
The mooncakes have to be pre-ordered and they have various collection dates.
You can contact them on Telegram https://t.me/fookpan for the price list and place your order via their webform.
For old school mooncakes with a lot of heart, Tuck Chan fits the bill perfectly. I love how they make their lotus paste, red and green bean paste from scratch.
The taste is definitely different. Equally delicious is Tuck Chan's assorted nuts mooncake with their unique shredded pink ham.
Note that they close their pre-orders by September 10. The last day for collection is September 27.
You can check out the order form on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TuckChan
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