At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The Chinese mid-Autumn festival (中秋節 Chong Chau Jit: fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month) falls today this year. It has long been one of my favourite holidays, but not for most reasons that move the Chinese.
Yes, I appreciate the warm family-connotations, the traditional harvest and home motiefs, and even the symbolism that has in three millennia accreted. Even the connection with the rebellion against the Mongols (元朝 Yuen Chiu: Yuan dynasty, 1280–1368 CE) has immense charm - who isn't stirred by the encouragement to slaughter barbarians?

[八月十五殺韃子 "Baat-yuet sahp-ng saa Tat-jee!" Eighth month fifteen, kill Tatars!]

At present, whacking foreigners is NOT part of the festivities. Murder really isn't a traditional method of celebration among civilized people, at least not anymore. And I'm okay with that. Though sometimes it does seem a pity.

My reasons for enjoying the Mid-Autumn Festival are rather simple and self-indulgent. Childish and pedestrian even.


What I really like are the pastries - I've always been inordinately fond of mooncakes. They're only available at this time of year.
Long ago I would stockpile boxes of them, to enjoy weeks or months later after they had become unavailable. As my supply dwindled, I'd become more careful of my precious hoard, finally savouring the last one sometime in January or February. It would not be nearly as good as ones eaten in September and October, but it was the last one for a very long time. And therefore, still utterly delicious.

Remarkably, most Caucasians I know aren't particularly taken by mooncakes.
Why is this? Is there something wrong with them?

Maybe it's that all-encompassing American cultural-whiteness. It affects the tastebuds. They don't like raw herring either. Weird.

The two most popular types of mooncake are double yolk refined lotus seedpaste (雙黃白蓮蓉月餅 seung wong pak lien yong yuet bing) and double yolk red bean-paste (雙黃豆沙月餅 seung wong dow sa yuet bing).

[NOTE: Preserved egg-yolk (鹹鴨蛋 haahm-ngaap dan) - One or more whole duck egg yolks nestled in the filling, which adds richness and a slightly salty note, accentuating the sweetness. It the most luxurious and expensive ingredient - the price is higher for mooncakes that have egg yolk.]

Both the lotus seed (蓮蓉 lien yong) paste and the red bean paste (豆沙 dow sa - literally, bean mud) are sweet and slightly rich. Both are very popular flavours for pastries. Dow sa consists of ground boiled azuki beans with sugar and oil.
There's also Ng-yan (五仁): five nut-kernels: pumpkin seed, melon seed, sesame, almond, and walnuts or peanuts) which usually has chunks of candied wintermelon (糖冬瓜 tong tung gwa) mixed in.


This time of year there are many imported brands in square tins available at Chinese stores in the Bay Area, even though locally made mooncakes are just as good, and often better.

The best sources for locally made mooncakes are Mee Mee (美美餅食公司) on Stockton, and the Eastern Bakery (東亞餅家) on Grant.

1328 Stockton Street (between Vallejo and Broadway)
San Francisco, CA 94133.
(415) 362-3204

720 Grant Avenue (btwn Sacramento and Clay, corner of Commercial Alley)
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 433-7973

Now, though I thoroughly recommend both businesses listed above, most of my mooncakes this year as every year will be imported. The reason being the handsome tins that they come in, four cakes per container.
Local bakeries use decorated boxes, Hong Kong and Taiwanese manufacturers package the pastries in tins.
I'm a bit odd that way - I like the tins too. Useful. And stackable.



If you are Jewish or vegetarian, please read the label on the tin or box carefully. There may be treifigkeit present, especially in the dough, and it might also be present in the filing. The Chinese tend to use lard shortening as their baking grease of choice - it makes pastries scrumptious, crispy, flaky, besides adding a yummy mouth-feel.
Pork products have the status of minhag. Just like shrimp and lobster. If you are Chinese.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

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  • At 9:15 AM, Blogger Tzipporah said…

    Never really been into red bean paste. Other than that (and the treif), they sound like something I would try.

  • At 4:31 PM, Blogger Steffy said…

    You saw my post about this very same subject last year, didn't you?


  • At 9:50 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said…

    Well of course I did! And I agreed with it.

    Which is why I couldn't really post about the subject last year.

    Did you enjoy your mooncakes this year? And where were they from?


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