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Of Phoenixes and Dragons and Good Luck All Around

posted August 28, 2016 at 06:59 pm
by  Joyce Babe Pañares
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Mooncake Festival, is a traditional festivity for both the Han and minority nationalities in China. On the 15th day of the eighth lunar month of the year, the moon will appear at its roundest and brightest, and the Chinese population around the world will gather for a family reunion to partake of traditional dishes that symbolize prosperity, happiness, and unity.

Braised sea cucumber and baby abalone in a clay pot, with a $25,000 crystal dragon centerpiece in the background
Older Chinese would tell folk stories, including the legend of the lunar deity Chang’e, who fled to the moon after drinking the elixir of immortality and was said to be accompanied by a jade rabbit. Another legend associated with the festival is how, during the Yuan dynasty, messages calling for a revolt were hidden inside special mooncakes.

Some of these folk stories may have been forgotten as they are passed on from one generation to another, but the tradition of gathering family members for a sumptuous meal and exchanging mooncakes continue.

Roasted Peking duck served two ways
At Crystal Dragon, one of Crown Towers’ signature restaurants, chef de cuisine Chan Choo Kean prepared exclusive a la carte dishes to usher in luck and good harvest in time for the festivity on Sept.15. And if you book the restaurant’s private room, you get to enjoy your food with a $25000.00 crystal ball surrounded by several dragons as centerpiece.

“We want our guests to enjoy succulent dishes that are auspicious as they are delicious,” Chef Chan said.

The tasty Sea Treasure in clay pot – braised sea cucumber and baby abalone with bean curd – represents good fortune, he said. Abalones symbolize gold, an auspicious element according to Chinese beliefs, while bean curd is seen to bring wealth and happiness.

Homemade snow skin mooncake
Crystal Dragon also offers roasted Peking duck, which can be ordered whole and done two ways – the slices of crispy skin with just the right amount of fat and a thin layer of meat are wrapped in rice paper and lathered with hoisin sauce while the remaining meat is shredded and cooked with rice vermicelli. Ducks represent fidelity in Chinese culture, and the roasted Peking duck’s reddish skin symbolizes happiness.

The restaurant’s wok-fried Boston lobster tails with salt and pepper and stewed chicken with wine sauce also pay tribute to the symbolism of the dragon and the phoenix in Chinese culture. The chicken (phoenix) represents the coming together of families while the lobster (which is literally dragon shrimp in Chinese) is considered auspicious.

Chef Chan also decided to offer sumptuous dishes that are not traditionally served during the Mid-Autumn Festival, such as the steamed marinated pork ribs with pork sausage and mushrooms, sautéed sea grouper with mushrooms, honey beans and celery, and braised superior shark’s fin soup with crab claw and truffles.

Homemade snow skin mooncake
The celebration, of course, will not be complete without mooncakes – traditional Chinese pastries filled with lotus or red bean paste and egg yolk. Crystal Dragon offers both the traditional mooncake imported from Macau, and its homemade snow-skin mooncake with custard and chocolate fillings. The snow skin mooncake’s crust is made from glutinous rice, which is frozen, thus its name.

According to anthropologist Michael Tan, in his essay “A brief history of mooncakes” published in an online news site in 2014, the exchange of mooncakes is a matter of displaying status, depending on who will receive it. Family members, close friends, and VIPs get the more expensive versions, usually with lotus seed paste rather than the more pedestrian beans.

Tan said “fusion mooncakes” have also emerged, with fillings influenced by Western cultural tastes, such as chocolate, truffles, ice cream and even alcoholic beverages like champagne. On the other end of the spectrum, he said, are mooncakes based on local ingredients, such as monggo, pandan, and ube.

“We therefore find more aristocratic mooncakes with imported ingredients on one hand, together with more plebian mooncakes with local ingredients, sometimes really just glorified hopia,” Tan said.

But whether or not we believe in the symbolisms of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the occasion is always a good excuse to get together and eat, with an abundant amount of good vibes and good luck.

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Topics: Mid-Autumn Festival , Mooncake Festival , Han and minority nationalities in China , Chinese family reunion , 8th Lunar month of the year
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