Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Mystery of the Moon Cake, Solved

I finally got to the dark secret behind the universal dislike of Moon Cake. All of we foreigners have had the occasion to sample the stuff in our hotels, in Starbucks and all around town during the weeks leading up to the Mid-Autumn Festival. And while it was not all that pleasant, I never felt it deserved the unbridled derision that it received. That opinion changed in an instant.

We picked up a 4-cake sample pack back in September and carefully carried it back to the States. Our intention was to have a somewhat belated Mid-Autumn Festival celebration of our own, on an upcoming visit to the family manse in Tucson.

So a mere 12 hours after returning from Ireland, we hopped in the car for the 6 hour drive over to our neighboring state. It's a different thing traveling by car, something I had sort of lost touch with, having not done it for almost a year. It's far more fun in the sense that you can control your starts and stops and what you do along the way. The price you pay is the time it takes. Instead of an hour, it takes six. But I was in no way interested in getting on another plane, so we went into the Balloon Fiesta traffic and the great expanse of the Chihuahuan Desert.

We had a wonderful dinner and read the Festival legends of Chang'e, the Man in the Moon and Hou Yi's timely destruction of the 9 extra suns that were scorching the Earth. And the stage being set, we tore into the first Moon Cake package with lip-licking delight.

Cutting it in the traditional 4 pieces along the diagonal, we discovered a bright yellow mass in the center. Rechecking our facts, we found that this was a special duck egg, representing the full moon. Hmm, in all the samples I'd scarfed I'd not had the pleasure of tasting the sacred egg.

Well, I have often written here about the nature of foreign foods and their assault on our relatively unsophisticated western palate. Assault doesn't describe the attack that this little goodie produced. It was more like a full-fledged invasion complete with bombardment by off-shore battleships, hordes of soldiers running out of landing craft and planes strafing the enemy positions. To say that it was the most offensive thing I have eaten is doing it a disservice, it was in a class of offense, all its own.

The consistency was sandy and the flavor was likened by at least one diner to "an armpit." It's saltiness could only be compared to what is left in the bottom of the pan when you boil down 100 gallons of turgid estuary water, gathered at the lowest of the low tides of the year. And the smell, well the smell proved that 90% of all taste is odor. Because it was odiferous. I dropped a few crumbs on the tablecloth and made the mistake of rubbing them in. Sadly, that family heirloom is now consigned to the trash bin.

Two of us were intrepid enough to try it, while the other two, seeing our distress made motions to shove it to the side of their plates without actually touching it. No amount of protestations could get them to do their right thing and try a bite. No, the Secret of the Moon Cake had been revealed.

And so comes the close of one of my cultural investigations. Never again will I poll my Chinese acquaintences about their Moon Cake preferences, the answer having been gained in one salty bite.

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