Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oriental Field Trip, Episode 2

This week was Mooncake festival. I think officially, it is the Mid-Autumn festival according to the asian lunar calendar, but I usually think of chinese holidays in relation to the particular food associated with them. So, off I went to Fubonn, and naturally, it would be a shame to pass up the chance to try something really weird. So I got the other two things: sun cakes, and a box of mochi choco cheese pies. I'll get to those in a minute.

Mooncakes were something my dad made when I was in junior high school. Some of his crazy restaurant friends got this idea that selling mooncakes would be a good idea, so around this time of year, our house became a mooncake manufacturing sweatshop. Totally illegal, total madness. Completely unsanitary. The things are filled with red or mung bean paste, typically, the making of which is a multi- day process. Basically, it's refried beans made with sugar and lard, cooked down until there's almost no water left in it. Dad made hundreds of pounds of this stuff. As time went on, he got progressively more fed up with it, and kept trying things to make the process more efficient. He tried leaving the beans, in 2 or 3 gallon batches, simmering on the stove overnight one time. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough water in the pots to make it work. During the night, the bottom half of the beans turned into charcoal, filling the first floor of the house with smoke. My mom woke up, ran downstairs, whipped my door open in the wee hours, and barked "ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?!?" I woke up and said "of course!" and mom slammed the door again. I'm cracking up really hard right now, but at the time it was very exasperating. I was fine (obviously), since my door had been shut all night, and being dead asleep, I hadn't noticed a thing until mom burst in, fearing quite reasonably that I had died of smoke inhalation. As a surly tween, this didn't really make sense to me until I got up and peeked out into the dining room. I saw nothing. Not as in, nothing worth remarking on; I mean the atmosphere was as white and opaque as milk. I have rarely been so utterly confounded. Also, it is no good thing to have to show up at middle school smelling like burnt beans.

Errata: Jej disremembers "the bean cloud". This would indicate that she was away at college, which would date the incident to my sophomore or junior year in high school. I think she is correct, since furthermore, I seem to think that dad's restaurant was already defunct at the time it occurred. I was reading something very interesting the other day about false memory- but naturally I can't remember where it was!

Mooncakes aren't particularly tasty, in my opinion, personal associations aside. They're really heavy, and rather bland, and they traditionally have a salted egg yolk in the middle to represent the full moon. While I no longer abominate the egg yolk as I did when I was a child, I can't say I like them either. They do give a salty-sweet balance to the desert, but the texture is grainy and I don't care for it. Mom loves 'em. Still, I do get all nostalgic every once in a while- once a year is often enough to eat these things, I guess.

I always preferred flaky cakes, which is what I was hoping the package of sun cakes was going to be like. When I was in pre-school and kindergarten, dad's mad scientist cooking hadn't yet spun out of control the way it did later, and he would make the flaky pastry on the dining room table, carefully fill each one with bean or date paste, and deep fry them. The proportion of pastry to filling was better, and the pastry itself was a satisfying thing to eat. It was crispy and rich, and the layers would go from feathery and loose on the outside to chewy and dense near the filling. In taiwan, I ate a similar thing that was filled with honey. These packaged things are only distantly realated to either confection. The outside is flaky all right, but there seems to be no filling as such, there is rather a layer of hard crunchy stuff that is not much different in flavor from the rest of the thing. But they are not inedible.

The last thing I picked up is something I may have read about somewhere. I probably dismissed the idea from my mind, thinking I'd never lay eyes on them in reality. But there they were: mochi with chocolate and cheese filling. I am enamored of the packaging, which is highly reminiscent of Nabisco products. They are exactly what they say they are. It had a very helpful diagram on the box explaining their composition: there is a layer of chocolate. It is actually pretty good chocolate, too, kind of like the outside of a york patty, but tastier. There is a layer of mochi. It is what it is. And there is a layer of cheese stuff. Which is a lot like the stuff inside ritz bits, with a certain essence of marshmallow quality added.

Want one? I dare you.

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