Saturday, October 3, 2009

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

On every August 15th of the Lunar calendar, it's the Mid-autumn Festival (中秋節, "zhong chau zeet" in Cantonese) celebrated by Chinese (of course, there are variations celebrated by Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese). It usually takes place during the end of September or early October, and this year, it's on October 3rd. It's also called the Moon Festival, because the moon is at its brightest, fullest and roundest. Guess what the traditional food is?

No doubt, it's the mooncake! Considered a delicacy, the traditional round or square-shaped Chinese lotus seed paste filled pastry is found in Asian markets and bakeries. Plus, some of these chewy mooncakes contain 1-2 salted egg yolks to symbolize the full moon. Another traditional food is pomelo, a light green to yellow citrus fruit that tastes like a mild grapefruit.

My favorite mooncake brand is the popular Hong Kong Wing Wah Mooncake (香港榮華月饼). Their mooncakes have a chewy thin crust and white lotus seed paste (the blue box for no yolk, the golden box for 1 yolk, and the pink box for 2 yolks). Typically, a box of 4 mooncakes costs around $20-40. The mooncake box comes with a plastic knife for you to cut the mooncakes into eighths, so be sure to not take these pastries lightly. According to the golden box, 1/8 of a mooncake is already 100 cals with 5g of fat. Multiply those numbers by 8... I don't need to go further. My boyfriend says that eating 1/4 of a mooncake is like eating 4 bowls of rice. To that I say, we only celebrate this holiday once per year, so indulge lightly and drink some tea!

Nonetheless, it's the yearly mooncake exchanging, house visiting, Chinese storytelling, traditional Chinese meal holiday! For my family, we visit our grandparents to pay our respects to the elders. Sometimes my maternal grandmother invites us over to her apartment for a traditional Chinese meal! This year though, we opted to dine in a Chinese restaurant in Oakland called Chopstick Chinese Restaurant (328 14th Street).

Now some of you may look up this restaurant on Yelp, but hold your horses. I already checked; it's a measly 8 reviews with an overall thumbs down. I beg to differ. The service is good and timely even with just 2 waiters, and the taste of the food overall is pretty decent. The reviewers just haven't chosen their specialty dishes, which I give kudos to their curry crab and lion's head meatballs. However, I do admit that their portion sizes are small for large parties (we were a party of 7 adults and 4 kids), so you might want to eat with a party of 4. We compensated by ordering many dishes, as they had a special of buying 3+ dishes for $5 each!

Lion's head meatball is one of my top 2 favorites. I heard of this traditional Chinese dish but haven't gotten to taste it until dining in this restaurant! The oversized pork meatballs represent the lion's head, and the bok choy represent the mane. Served in a set of four, they're also called "Four Happy Balls" (四喜丸子, "sei hei yuen zi" in Cantonese). This is the red variety, braised in soy sauce! The minced meat is made with fatty pork, mixed with chopped water chesnuts for the crunch. Once you bite into it, it just falls apart in your mouth in sweet and savory goodness! Not your average meatball you find in pastas and pizzas. It's a definite must try for this restaurant!
Not a fan of green leafy veggies? This dish might change your mind. It's snow pea shoots of the big leaf variety, called "dai dau miu" in Cantonese. According to, it's a cross between spinach and peas. I highly promote eating spinach for being a superfood, but if you dislike the taste of spinach, snow pea shoots can ease your way into eating your greens. In Chinese restaurants, dau miu is usually stir fried with whole garlic cloves, so they have a tender pea taste.

If you celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival at a Chinese restaurant tonight, make reservations. Arrive early. Luckily for us, we just decided to celebrate about a week in advance. Happy mooncake eating, and remember to check out the full moon!

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