Mooncake Festival is upon us, but like many other events in Melbourne is being done differently this year.
Mid-Autumn Festival, otherwise known as the Mooncake Festival or Lantern Festival, is traditionally celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth Chinese lunar calendar month. This year, it starts on Thursday, October 1.
Emperors used it as a way to celebrate the year's harvest and would feast and make offerings to the moon goddess. Mooncakes, which are traditionally eaten at the time, are round, dense little cakes that represent the fullness of the moon. They would usually contain a single salted duck egg yolk in the centre to further symbolise the moon.
Nowadays, Mooncake Festival provides families with the opportunity to reunite and celebrate together, eating mooncakes and lighting lanterns. But this year’s festival is different for Melburnians in lockdown.
“When I was young, my dad used to make us a lantern which looked like a dragon," says Er Rin Tan, owner of Amour Desserts, a home-based bakery that specialises in Asian desserts. "He made the outline with wires, covered it with cellophane and inside we would light a candle. We would then walk around the neighbourhood with it. It was very, very fun.
"Those memories are what we hold onto that we don’t get nowadays. Not many people light lanterns up anymore, and instead the focus is on food, so people eat mooncakes.”
Of course, this year, families have to enjoy the mooncakes in their own homes, rather than being able to gather.
“People have been splitting up their mooncake orders so family members receive orders at different addresses,” says Albert Lim from Durasia, a specialty durian importer in Melbourne. The company, which usually sells high-quality durians, started offering Musang King Durian mooncakes to its customer base two weeks ago in an attempt to “lift up spirits and morale during the pandemic”.
The durian mooncakes have a snowy skin like Japanese mochi and are filled with premium Musang King durians, which give them a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
“We wanted to bring families together over mooncakes,” he says. Lim together with Durasia's founder Mukhlis Rohaizak also started offering virtual Zoom meet-ups in an attempt to bring isolated Malaysians across the city together to celebrate.
Tan says Amour Desserts is a way to connect with her community.
“Since moving here I feel there’s so many things I’m missing out on that I can do back in Malaysia. My main mission is to bake what I love to eat because I can’t get it here, and to spread love through my cakes,” says Tan.
The Malaysia-born chef started experimenting with various mooncake flavours this year, and her sweet and spicy sambal take on the classic dessert has been a raging success. “We grind shrimp, lemongrass, chilli, onion and garlic into a paste and cook it over the stove for a while until it turns aromatic, then we mix it in with lotus paste, which is slightly sweet. The spiciness of the shrimp paste blends together and gives it a sweet, spicy flavour.”
“People love it when there are different flavours and textures that come together in the mooncake,” Tan says. And she’s confident that fusion mooncakes are the way of the future. So much so that she hopes to create fruitier flavours like a mango mooncake and experiment with durian for next year’s festivities.
You can also find classic flavours like lotus paste and red bean at Amour Desserts, but it’s the bakery's Taiwanese 3Q Mooncake that she recommends. “It’s made with our less sweet red bean paste, salted egg, and pork floss, and wrapped in a flaky outer crust. It’s a very unique and scrumptious mooncake.”
Mid-Autumn Festival will take place on October 1 this year, but Amour Desserts will be taking orders up until October 6, while Durasia will be offering Musang King Durian Mooncakes until October 4.