Monday, September 28, 2009

Modern twists to mooncakes, lanterns

THIS Saturday, the Chinese community will be celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Mooncake or Lantern Festival.

The Hokkiens call it Tung Chiew.

It falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month and is marked by the eating of mooncakes and lantern pardes.

The arrival of the festival in the city is usually announced by the emergence of mooncake stalls at shopping complexes, sometimes up to a month prior to the actual date, although in the past you rarely see mooncakes until after the Hungry Ghost festival was over.

Mooncakes too have changed quite a bit over the past 30 years.

The only varieties you get in the old days were the plain “tau sar” (black bean paste), black bean paste with “kuaci” (melon seeds), “lin yong” (lotus seed paste) and the “kim tooi” (mixed nuts, citron peel and meat) fillings.

Additionally, some would have single or double egg yolks and the pastry was usually brown.

Today there are more than a dozen variations, both in fillings and pastry, as manufacturers strive to set themselves apart from the crowd.

What used to cost RM1.70 for a roll of four mooncakes with plain black bean paste filling, today costs more than 10 times a box.

The packaging, too, has evolved tremendously.

Those days, mooncakes were mostly packed in waxed paper in rolls of four with each confectioner distinguished by the red, pink or gold labels.

Nowadays, intricately designed paper boxes and quaint-looking tins hold these festive delicacies—and in most cases, the boxes and containers cost more than the mooncakes thems e l ve s.

The ones I received lastweek came in a small balsa chest, complete with four drawers containing a type of mooncake each.

There was also a set of porcelain plate and a pair of chopsticks.

I dared not ask my brother-in-law how much the whole package cost.

Lanterns too have changed in shape and design over the years.

You will be hard-pressed to find traditional paper lanterns.

Chances are you will find instead LED-lit plastic lanterns.

Some even come with digital tunes.

Judging from the number and variety that come out each year, demand must have been there for the fireproof modern lanterns.

Or could it be that the traditional lantern makers are slowly disappear ing? I remember a time when everyone I grew up with knew how to make paper lanterns.

In fact, lantern-making was one of the art and craft projects in schools.

Students were taught how to connect six circular wire frames to make a simple box lantern.

I wonder how many schools still have lantern-making projects or if the teachers even knew how to make paper lanterns these days.

Not many parents I spoke to recently know where to get glass paper for the traditional lanterns, let alone make them.

I suppose one day, lantern-making will become extinct just like many other traditional activities.

My friend, Aman, told me that the Chinese are not alone.

The Malays are also slowly losing their traditional skills.

He said his nephews and nieces from Singapore who visited him during the recent Hari Raya were delighted to see k e t u p at cases woven by hand using palm leaves.

At home, their parents had used plastic-wrapped ketupat .

We can blame rapid commercialisation for indirectly contributing to the demise of tradition but I think we are also partly responsible if we do not take time or effort to learn more of it.

Otherwise, we may end up looking pretty foolish, for instance, giving away mooncakes during the Month of the Hungry Ghosts.

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