The mooncakes I grew up with had skins made of lard and rich, thick fillings of lotus seed or red bean paste. Like any Chinese family, mine would stock up on tins of mooncakes every year for Mid-Autumn Festival, as per tradition. Each tin had at least 4 to 8 cakes, which meant we ended up with a lot of a pastry that almost nobody could finish in one sitting.
Sometime during high school, I looked and found out from the metal tins that each large mooncake contained 1,600 calories. Now, I was never one to keep track of calories and fats, but I was still rather shocked to learn that my thighs and cholesterol would be better off if I ate a Big Mac and fries. ::Shudder:: But of course, traditional mooncakes are so dense and monotonous after a few slices that it’s hard to polish off a whole one by yourself.
Nowadays in Hong Kong and Singapore a new breed of healthier mooncakes have become popular. (They’re also slowly catching on in the U.S.) The name 冰皮月餅 (bing pay yuet bang in Cantonese, bing pi yue bing in Mandarin) translates into English as “snowy mooncakes” or “snow-skin mooncakes”. The off-white skin is made of glutinous rice and the fillings are rather unusual: matcha, durian, taro, cappucino, just to name a few. They also need to be refrigerated, resulting in an icy-cold pastry that can only be fully appreciated in the heat of Southeast Asia. The texture and taste can best be described as that of ice cream mochi.
As of last week, every supermarket I encountered Hong Kong had at least 4 or 5 different snowy mooncake vendors, selling their wares from popsicle fridges. My aunt received a big box of 8 varieties from Maxim’s as a gift, and of course I volunteered to eat some for her.
I was stuffed from a day of gorging myself on Cantonese and Japanese food, but just had to dig into a mooncake supposedly flavored like Hong Kong milk tea. While it was quite sugary and tasty, it lacked the ultrar-strong flavor I associate with my beloved milk tea. For curiosity’s sake, I also had to try the one labeled “bird’s nest”, the centerpiece and most expensive kind if you bought them individually.
Think little strands of very sugary jelly, surrounded by cold mochi.
And as much as I love ice cream mochi, and as healthy as these snowy mooncakes are compared to traditional ones, I will still be satisfied eating just slices, not the whole thing.