The Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, falls on September 15 this year. The moon is said to be the biggest, roundest and brightest on this night, giving rise to the practice of 賞月, or admiring the moon.
Being a city, Singapore doesn’t have the best night skies for star gazing, but moon gazing is a completely different matter. On September 15, the moon is bright enough that you’ll be able to enjoy moon gazing while having a night picnic anywhere with views of open skies, assuming the moon isn’t hiding behind some pesky clouds.
What should you bring on this moon gazing picnic? Why, mooncakes of course! There are broadly two types of mooncakes: traditional baked mooncakes filled with lotus paste, and snowskin mooncakes, with an amazing array of fillings.
Traditional mooncakes are filled with sweet lotus seed paste, with or without whole salted egg yolk. The number of egg yolks a mooncake contains range from 1 to 4, adding a saltiness that cuts the potentially cloying sweetness of the lotus seed paste. You can make the lotus paste yourself, but most people don’t, because it is extremely labour intensive and buying ready-made paste is so much easier and more convenient.
A good, traditional baked mooncake has a rich, thin pastry wrapped around a generous serving of lotus paste. Some baked mooncakes have five types of coarsely chopped nuts and seeds added in the lotus paste, called五仁or “five kernel”. The types of nuts and seeds vary, depending on the maker, but commonly include: walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds, or almonds, with the addition of candied tangerine peel for an extra burst of flavour.
The five kernel, especially, can be an acquired taste, but don’t worry! Plain pastries made just from the mooncake pastry are also available, and they are especially popular with children. Apparently, these pastries were made to use up leftover pastry dough, to ensure that nothing went to waste. They are shaped like roast pigs to symbolise abundance, and are commonly sold today in colourful plastic baskets, reminiscent of the cages pigs were transported to the markets in. Some of these little piggies may have black beans pressed into the dough and baked as their eyes – those aren’t meant to be eaten though, so be sure to avoid swallowing them!
Apart from the golden brown baked mooncakes, you will also find snowskin mooncakes that come in delicate hues and a dazzling array of fillings. Snowskin mooncakes are non-bake, and should be kept refrigerated. The skin is made from rice flour and glutinous rice flour instead of all-purpose flour, so it’s slightly stretchy and chewier than the baked versions.
Apart from lotus paste fillings, other traditional fillings that you can easily find include red bean and yam filled snowskin mooncakes. However, there are plenty of fusion flavours to be found, from matcha to custard to durian to ice cream and even chocolate truffles. Love a little liquor? Champagne, Baileys or even specialty cocktail infused mooncakes are available.
Where does one go to bring some of these delectable goodies home? Some of the best mooncakes in Singapore are from the top Chinese restaurants on the culinary scene here, and they produce exciting new flavours every year. Here are some of our picks from this year’s offerings:
Yan Ting Restaurant
Snowskin selections include the returning favourite Pure ‘Mao Shan Wang’ Durian Indulgence Snow Skin Mooncake (S$118+ per box of 8). New flavours this year include Pomegranate Truffle with Red Bean Chendol Paste Snow Skin Mooncake (S$75+ per box of 8) and Purple Sweet Potato with Water Chestnut and Salted Yam Paste Snow Skin Mooncake (S$75+ per box of 8). Want something less sweet? Salted Peanut Truffle with Black Sesame Paste Snow Skin Mooncake (S$75+ per box of 8) offers a savoury-sweet flavour profile, while the Portuguese Custard Paste Snow Skin Mooncake (S$73+ per box of 8) is for those who enjoy a touch of sweet and salty.
Address: The St. Regis Singapore, 29 Tanglin Road, Singapore 247911
Raffles Hotel isn’t just famous for the Singapore Sling cocktail – their luscious mooncakes with popular flavours such as Earl Grey Tea and Chocolate Pearl Truffle Snow-Skin Mooncake (S$70 per box of 8) and Champagne Truffle and Ganache Snow-Skin Mooncake (S$72 per box of 8) are just as well-known. New this year is the Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Feuilletine Snow-Skin Mooncake (S$70 per box of 8), which contains smooth, creamy peanut butter with crunchy feuilletine.
Address: 1 Beach Rd, Singapore 189673
Goodwood Park Hotel
Presenting chocolate and alcoholic flavours for the first time this year, try the Dark Chocolate Crunchy Hazelnut Snowskin Mooncake (S$38 for 2 pieces, S$56 for 4 pieces) and the Gin Pineapple Snowskin Mooncake (S$38 for 2 pieces, S$56 for 4 pieces) from Goodwood Park Hotel. For a lighter and zestier take on mooncakes, try the Yuzu Lychee Snowskin Mooncake (S$33 for 2 pieces, S$54 for 4 pieces). If you can’t decide, there’s always the Snowskin Combo which includes “Mao Shan Wang” Durian, Yuzu Lychee, Mango with Pomelo and Cempedak flavours (S$68 for 4 pieces).
Address: 22 Scotts Road, Singapore 228221
Have you ever see the Buddha’s hand fruit? This is an unusual citrus fruit that has segments resembling human fingers – and Grand Hyatt’s chefs have incorporated this into their Black Sesame Buddha’s Hand Truffle mooncake. If you prefer a saltier taste, the Peanut Butter Sea Salt Truffle will be perfect. For those who like a little tipple, choose from Champagne Truffle, Lychee Martini Truffle, Mao Tai Dark Chocolate Truffle, Matcha Azuki Bean Sake Truffle and Strawberry Lime Tequila Truffle mooncakes. All mooncakes from the Grand Hyatt are S$69 for a box of 4 traditional mooncakes or 8 snowskin mooncakes.
Address: 10 Scotts Road, Singapore 228211
the shop at mezza9 – Mezzanine Level, Grand Hyatt Hotel (9 August to 15 September 2016, 11:00am to 10:30pm)
Lobby Shop – Ground Level, Grand Hyatt Hotel (12 August to 15 September 2016, 11:00am to 10:00pm)
Ngee Ann City – Basement 2 Level, Takashimaya Square (13 August to 15 September 2016)
Chevron House – Ground Level, Change Alley (15 August to 15 September 2016, Monday to Friday only)
Vivo City – Ground Level, Atrium (16 August to 14 September 2016)
Famous for their unique Teochew-style flaky orh-ni (yam paste) mooncake, Peony Jade doesn’t disappoint with their other selections either. Their signature low-sugar traditional mooncakes include Premium ‘Jin Hua’ Ham (S$41 for box of 2, S$70 for box of 4)for a savoury spin, while the Turmeric Skin with Ginger, Lemon Grass White Lotus Paste and Pine Nuts (S$37 for box of 2, S$66 for box of 4) baked mooncakes offer a healthier choice. New flavours this year include the Mini Snowskin Mooncake with Rose Lychee and Raspberry Jelly Centre (S$68 for 8 pieces) and Baked Mini Mooncake with Molten Matcha & Salted Yolk (S$62 for 8 pieces), which are recommended to be heated in the microwave for a couple of seconds for optimum oozing.