Emerald Travels: China

Sean Jansen, Travel Columnist 

 

China isn’t a country that celebrates many things you would consider relevant to most of us in the Western world. Their style and culture are so bizarrely different from our own that many of us would look at them as being something from another planet. And if their culture is from another planet, then there food is from another universe. What they eat and how they eat it would make most of us cringe at the sight of it. But if I were to choose one thing that China does and does with style, that would be to celebrate their local holidays, including celebrating with pastries that even we from the Western world would appreciate.

For instance, China has a pastry that is known as the mooncake. It is so-called due to fact that it is prepared during the Mid-Autumn Festival, or Zhongqiujie, which is a lunar worship ceremony. It is typically enjoyed during the first week of October but, depending on the moon phase, can be enjoyed into September. Mooncakes are offered and shared among family members and friends, and are made differently within each family. The festival, which takes place over seven days, offers all Chinese people a break from work during which they drink tea and eat the tasty cakes.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the four most important holidays in all of China and is celebrated throughout the country. However, while the celebrations may be the same, the mooncakes are prepared differently in each province

In China, there are 22 provinces, 34 divisions, four municipalities, five autonomous regions, two special Administrative Regions, and the claimed Taiwan, all of which make mooncakes during the week of the full moon. So as you can imagine, there are a lot of variations of the cake. But the cake itself is relatively simple. It consists of a five-inch wide cake stuffed with filling, and the filling is usually what differs in each area of China. It is typically filled with red bean or lotus root extract. Now, I know that that may sound like a disgusting (and almost healthy) pastry filling. But let me tell you firsthand that it is a sweet, delightful cake that rivals anything we have in the States, and it packs a whopping 1,000 calories into each five-inch cake. So after about three of them, you are ready to lie down and veg for a bit.

I spent 10 months in China, and the food is wild to say the least. Mooncakes were a welcome relief from their varied cuisine. And it was cool to think that while my friends were dressing up, drinking, and getting ready to celebrate Halloween by climbing the McKinley statue, I was drinking tea and eating mooncakes. So for those of you who are about to dress up and enjoy your Halloween on the Arcata Plaza this year, just know that 1.3 billion people are enjoying tea and mooncakes at the same time, just like I did.

Emerald contributor since March 2012

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