Mooncakes Over Singapore


Soon, the eighth moon of the lunar year will rise round and full over Singapore, and the people will unite with merriment and cake. All this month, in the prelude to the Mid-Autumn Festival, the city’s Chinese are buying, selling, giving, and gobbling mooncakes—crispy golden mooncakes, glutinous-rice snowskin mooncakes, mooncakes filled with egg yolks and durian, lotus seed and olive seed, beans and yams, melon and date, apricot and walnut, wolfberries and figs, rum raisin, chocolate ganache, even Champagne truffle. An individual cake, which is curiously the same size as a Hostess Ding Dong, can sell for upwards of $10 at a high-end hotel. But the real ritz is in Xin Cuisine Chinese Restaurant’s golden lacquered box of four: $263.

Like many a Chinese tradition, this one stems from ancient legend. And like many an ancient legend, this one has several versions, some that end with romantic harmony and some that end with a woman being turned into a toad. I prefer this one: A long time ago, 10 suns circled the earth. One day, all 10 suns appeared in the sky together and the heat caused a great drought. A famous archer named Hou Yi came to the rescue, shooting down nine of the suns and earning himself vast acclaim. The Emperor awarded him a beautiful wife, as well as an immortality pill. One day while Hou Yi was out, his wife ate the pill. She became a fairy and floated to the moon, leaving a heartbroken husband at home on Earth. The gods noticed the couple’s deep love and sympathized, allowing them to meet on the 15th day of every eighth moon.

So, even if we don’t exactly have a clear moral to the story, we do have a festival. And we have all these cakes, which purportedly resemble the moon. Truth be told, I have never liked mooncakes. I’ve found them dry and pasty, dense and unappetizing. But then, I had never tasted modern mooncake until this month in Singapore, where some of the fanciest hotels in town seem to be competing for accolades in decadence. Or, alternatively, in health: many newfangled mooncakes forgo cholesterol-rich egg yolk for fruit and vegetable-based pastes.

So, I bought myself a lavender-colored snowskin beauty, cheapest of the bunch, stuffed with yam paste and red dates. It was delicious, I thought.

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