As far as food and family are concerned, there isn’t a bigger festival in China than Mid-Autumn Festival (known as ‘Zhongqiu’ in Chinese). Every year, on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, millions of people travel across China – or sometimes the world – to return home to reunite with loved ones and enjoy a lavish feast. Gifts are exchanged and farmers celebrate the end of a long summer of work by relaxing with their families.
It’s little surprise that the associated festivities have crept beyond China’s borders and onto the menus of Chinese restaurants around the world. Dubai’s generous Chinese population (around 180,000) are well represented by a selection of quality restaurants, from authentic, backstreet budget eateries to those serving contemporary Chinese cuisine in five-star environs. All of them will be celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival in some shape or form.
The centrepiece of the festival is the mooncake. Enjoyed by millions of Chinese people worldwide, this tradition is said to have originated as a way to transport messages of dissent during the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty, with notes hidden in the filling. Since then, the cake has evolved into something far more appetising – a basic pastry-based concoction with sesame paste filling and a boiled egg in the centre (an acquired taste, granted, but one that we rather like).
China’s vast size and ethnic diversity means the ingredients and flavour of mooncakes now vary from province to province. For example, Beijing-style mooncakes are prized for having less grease compared with their Cantonese counterparts (which are notoriously oily), and often feature fillings such as dried tangerine peel and walnuts.
Modern-day mooncake flavours can be as varied as chocolate ice cream, octopus and green tea. Every year, global coffee brand Starbucks launches its own selection, while China’s branches of Wal-Mart and Carrefour hold special promotions to persuade shoppers to buy them. Boutique hotels such as The Opposite House in Beijing have even crafted a unique variety of cupcake-style mooncake (is there anything that can’t be done with cupcakes?).
Amid this mooncake madness, it’s all too easy to forget the other delicacies served during the festival. Many of Dubai’s Chinese venues will be serving dishes such as dumplings, steamed fish and rice, alongside more inventive creations. Check out our boxout on the opposite page for the essential destinations celebrating this year’s festival and the signature dishes on offer. Get those forks at the ready…