Sunday, 14 September 2008

Mongols in the Fall

The carpet of yellow and red stretched for as far as the eye could see.

From 25,000 feet it was a scene I remember well - the Canadian Fall. "Fall" always seems such an appropriate and utilitarian term for the season of "autumn".

Apparently we have the French to blame for the term "autumn" as it comes from the Old French word autompne and was later normalized to the original Latin word autumnus. Before the 14th century however the season was known as "harvest" a solid, self-explanatory and sensible British term!

Why do I mention the above while being safely ensconced in tropical Singapore away from all of the vagaries of the aforementioned season?

The answer is very simple - we are currently celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival, an event which is actually the Moon festival and dates back some 3,000 years to the Chinese Shang Dynasty.

The mid-Autumn date is the time that the Moon is meant to be at its most beautiful and everyone admires it.

There are no falling leaves in Singapore in the autumnal sense, just expanding waistlines as everyone buys and samples Moon cakes. These 'weight-watcher delights' are given as networking and relationship building gifts not only to family and friends but also by corporates to valued clients.

Legend also has it that the Mongols where overthrown during this time by embedding messages related to the popular uprising inside Moon Cakes.

Now the only embedding that takes place is the insertion of new and exotic fillings within the crust. Each year there are more and more unusal fillings literally breaking the mold.

This year for instance I have sampled; champagne Moon Cakes, rum liqueur varieties, roast chicken/pepper & lotus, bilious green pandan versions, green tea and even durian moon cakes.

I remain however a traditionalist with a strong preference for lotus paste and double egg yolk, the latter being salted duck eggs which are a strong counterpoint to the cloying sweetness of the lotus paste.

One is of course meant to take a small slice of the cake and have it with tea. The novice Ang Mo may attempt to eat a whole cake at one sitting but I doubt that this attempt would ever be repeated - they are simply far too rich.

There are also quite distinct regional variations of this delicacy. I prefer the Cantonese style crust which is a red-brown and baked. Also popular in Singapore are the Teochew style which is a flaky pastry version that is deep fried.

I confess to being "moon-caked out"! Yesterday we visited Takashimaya department store and in the centre court there were dozens of stores featuring mid-Autumn goodies and there was much sampling to be had. After doing the rounds of the various stalls we both felt rather ill from too many sweet offerings.

As a footnote I should also record that after more eight years of working in the university world I am leaving to take up a new role as Director of Online Operations(East Asia), for a well known international organisation that has its regional hub based in Singapore.

This is a challenge that I am very much looking forward to and, as my work will involve travel to at least 12 countries in the region, I will be able to further expand the geographic coverage of this epistle.

No comments: