Me and Chairman Mao
  Let them eat cake ... moon cake!
Last Sunday was the mid-Autumn festival here in China. What September 18 has to do with mid-Autumn I have no idea, but whatever. (I guess it has about as much to do with mid-Autumn as Christmas has to do with the actual date that Jesus was born, so who am I to argue?) Whatever the case, a big part of the mid-Autumn festival are moon cakes, which--to make another Christmas parallel--are the Chinese equivalent of fruitcake: something everyone gets, but that very few people seem to actually like.

I'm not sure what moon cakes originally had to do with the mid-Autumn festival, but they rose to fame (if such a thing is possible) in the mid-fourteenth century when the Han Chinese rebelled and overthrew the Mongols, who had taken power about a hundred years earlier. (The Mongols were in power when Marco Polo made his alleged trip to Beijing.) Since moon cakes were a distinctly Chinese dish--apparently the Mongols had better taste?--the rebels hid messages in the moon cakes to tell people about the rebellion. It worked, the Mongols fled, and the Ming dynasty came to power and began their vase-making ways.

In any case, moon cakes have been famous every since, although at some point the highly questionable decision was made to replace the paper messages with a salty egg yolk, usually from a duck. An interesting choice, I'll give you that, but I think I would have gone with chocolate, or maybe a nice nougat. What do you think? Apparently the egg yolk was mean to represent the moon--it puts the moon in moon cake!--but wouldn't a taffy or something have worked just as well? I mean, maybe it's just me, but wouldn't most people prefer a nice Cadbury caramel to a preserved duck egg? I'm not criticizing, I'm just saying.

At any rate, Holly got a ton of moon cakes from some of the companies she works with, so we ended up with serious moon cake haul. I know, I know, you're totally jealous, aren't you? Luckily, there has apparently been some branching out in moon cake fillings from the old days, so some were actually edible. Sadly, we didn't get any from Starbucks--they were all filled with chocolate, from what I hear--but we did get a nice big box of Nestle moon cakes, which were essentially just bon-bons in a box that said "moon cakes." Not very authentic, but we were both fine with that.

Here is our moon cake collection. The Nestle box is on the bottom. Nice that it was the biggest, isn't it?

Some of our many moon cakes. As you can see, the non-Nestle type usually have a doughy, pastry-like crust.

Fancy moon cakes from the Westin, which were labeled in English on the actual wrappers themselves. The top two tins were pumpkin and green tea, both mixed with "glutinous rice." We ate those, and they were better than they sound. The bottom two are "satay beef" and "lotus paste and abalone." They are both still sitting in our refrigerator, rapidly going bad--or should that be worse?--so if anyone wants them, let me know.

Yet another box of moon cakes. Really, it's an embarrassment of riches. Or at least it would be if they were edible.

Close-up of a moon cake. It looks like it should be good, doesn't it?

Since we had no way of knowing what was in any of the moon cakes, we had to resort to the "cut and sniff" method, which only sounds like some strange euphemism for passing gas. (Thankfully, by the way.) By that, I mean we actually cut each moon cake open, and then smelled it to see if we thought it might be edible. Here's our first batch ...

Unfortunately, these were all of the egg-yolk variety. Happily, they didn't smell as bad as they look.

What to do next? Simple: push the gross moon cakes to the side to be thrown away, despite the fact that there were probably tens of thousands of people in the city who would have loved to eat them, and try three more.

These three worked out a bit better, since one of them had a fig-based filling and ended up tasting like a Fig Newton. As far as the other two, one was coffee, which had both the taste and texture of grounds; and the other was some unidentifiable meat-like substance, which tasted like ... well, we couldn't tell, which is never a good sign, is it? We didn't like the last two so much, as you can tell:

What about the Nestle ones, you ask? Sadly, those didn't actually last long enough to be photographed. And no, it's not because we forgot to put them in the freezer and they melted in the heat, but thanks for thinking that ...
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