Brunei Darussalam

MOONCAKES. OUR ANNUAL O-BSESSION.

I know, it’s a little early to be posting mooncake photos but when you consider how early I received mine this year and how much earlier they have been available for sale at food outlets make my blog somewhat late in comparison.

This annual traditional Chinese celebration is called Mid-Autumn Festival aka Moon Festival and is popularly called zhōngqiūjié (pinyin). Apparently, this festival is a celebration of abundance and togetherness dating back to China’s Zhou Dynasty where people celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival to worship the moon. This explains the origin of the name and shape. “The round mooncake symbolizes the family circle and the flavour brings to mind the sweetness of familial ties” according to an exerpt from The Asia Times. Hence, I titled this blog an annual “O“bsession.

HSBC PREMIER Lotus Paste Mooncake © Jan Shim Photography

The modern mooncake comes in a bilwildering flavours to suit the exotic taste buds of ever demanding customers. Pictured here is a more traditional Lotus Paste with Two Eggs variety—denoted by the four embossed Chinese characters on top of each mooncake, an obvious thing of course if you understand the language.

What remains a mystery to me however is that mooncakes are typically available in a set of four. But why four? Isn’t the number 4 considered unlucky in many Asian cultures? Not so according to a quick Wikipedia revelation …

The number 4 is considered lucky in some regions of China where it is homonymous in the local dialect to the word “事” (job, business, or task). When the number 4 is encountered during a celebration, people would often remark “四四如意”, which would also refer to “事事如意” (Everything done as wished); however, it is more commonly seen as bad luck in modern times, especially in dialects where its pronunciation is homonymic to the word “death” (死).

lanterns-2006.jpg
Lanterns from last year's celebration © Jan Shim Photography

Let’s see if we get a full moon tomorrow night. We do have a full moon this evening but the night sky wasn’t as clear as I would have preferred. Captured this at 8.30 pm on my EOS 20D at 640mm end on the EF100-400 L lens and trying hard to stay focused in a mossie feeding frenzy.

Mid-Autumn Full Moon © Jan Shim Photography

29 thoughts on “MOONCAKES. OUR ANNUAL O-BSESSION.

  1. Ok, No fair…it’s midnight here and I’m starving with no food in the house! Naturally I pick the site with Mooncakes to look at.

    Really Nice shots even though I can’t eat them! 😉

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  2. 555… I dont like mookcake~ It is too sweet~~

    Even though, I will still eat with my family la~ cuz Mid-autumn day is also a date to celebrate with the whole family~ In a meaning of “团团圆圆”.

    Hey, if you happen to visist China in autumn next time, I will bring you to eat “big crab” – another fantastic food in autumn~ super nice!!! Imagine if you can drink “花雕” (one of chinese wine) and eat big crab under the full moon~~ um~~ AWESOME!!!!

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  3. @lisaamorao

    Not necessarily. I did it that way purely from a presentation perspective, cutting into equal quarters as mooncakes have a synonimity with the number 4. I would personally cut them into much smaller chunks which are easier to chow down.

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  4. @ Ski

    Alcohol doesn’t excite me unfortunately but “big crab under the full moon” gets my attention! My favourite style of eating crab lies not so much in its size but rather cooked in black pepper and chilled. Yes, you heard right—cold black pepper crabs!

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  5. great article (and fabulous pictures! I’m not crazy about mooncakes but your pictures made it so tempting)…

    I was just about to write a moon festival post on mine but then i saw yours, i don’t know i could’ve written as well… (and definitely no such edible photos :=)

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  6. @ Gerald Tay

    You noticed huh? But then again, you are also a photographer!

    I have another box set of HSBC Mooncakes that are individually wrapped for hygiene and freshness so I wasn’t about to unwrap those for a re-shoot. That said, I was going to shoot the mooncake right into my mouth (explains the first quarter slice) and did not intend to photograph it. 🙂

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  7. @ walkingbetween

    I’m not a big fan either but when you have boxes of them in the house and I succumbed to their tempting invites. Thanks for linking your article to my blog …

    I was about to write a longer post but then I stumbled upon this great blog of Jan Shim and his post Mooncakes. Our Annual O-bsession. Not being the most knowledgeable, traditional person (when it comes to Chinese history and traditions) myself, I decided to hide my weakness by pointing you to other people’s better work.

    Congratulations on your 10th Anniversary in the US. I read your very interesting story and you do have a flare for writing, a passion that shows from your love of writing since you were a kid even though a big part of that in another language.

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  8. @ Vincent,

    I have to agree with you there! I think the sweetness in mooncakes are somewhat over flavoured and overbearing in an attempt to follow tradition …

    “The round mooncake symbolizes the family circle and the flavour brings to mind the sweetness of familial ties” according to an exerpt above.

    … considering many of today’s consumers are conscious of foods that contain too much sugar. Moreso, ‘adult’ diabetes (also called Type 2 diabetes) are reportedly on the rise in kids today from our tendency to indulge in all things sweet.

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  9. the moon shot is amazing. =D How did you do that? Telephoto? reflex/mirror lens? xD

    I love Mid-Autumn festival, especially when I celebrate it in Miri many years ago. We live in terrace houses, so we’re very close (in terms of relationship, and geological location) with our neighbors. So, during Mid-Autumn festival, every family will pull their dining table to the middle of the road (we basically own that road, it leads to a dead end, our houses situated on both end, like simpang, =D) and share food, talk, drink, eat moon cake, talk about old stories (those adults), kids (at that time, I was categorized under this, =D) playing lanterns and cry when they accidentally burn it. =D

    And erm, there’s even a myth that you can see the silhouettes of chang’er, WuGang and the royal rabbit if you take a pail of water, then look at the reflection of the moon, haha, takes lot of imagination tho, =D

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  10. @ IngSiang

    The answer to your question is actually right there above the picture—a simple combination of camera and telephoto lens and a glowing subject to photograph :).

    Funny you should mention your childhood memories of this day while I have no recollection of mine but seeing my two kids run around with their friends each with a lantern in their hands and then once in a while a lantern would spontaneously combust shows that things are still what they used to be, for some!

    Traditional celebrations aside, I’ve often wondered about something far more rudimentary—as rudimentary as sitting outdoor in the garden or driveway on a moonlit night without being attacked by blood-thirsty mosquitoes. Along with high humidity and stifling tropical heat it’s hard to pretend these factors aren’t there and for that, we (as a nation) find ourselves in air conditioned homes, offices, cars all the time. Having travelled extensively to countries like China and spent two weeks towards the end of an extended autumn season, I reminisce the experience and put myself in the shoes of the Chinese celebrating their mid-autumn festival, even if that lasts a few worthy seconds before I snap back to my reality!

    Apologies if I laboured on. All the best in your upcoming mock exams.

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  11. As usual, your blog put my taste buds in overdrive. I have never seen a mooncake before but my new job has me surrounded by a lot of cultural specialty restaurants and bakeries. I was able to find a pastry shop just 3 blocks from my office that has 2 kinds of mooncakes: red bean and mixed nut. I picked up some of the red bean variety today to share with the office and I have to say, they’re not too bad at all. Perhaps it’s my American diet but I didnt’ find them overly sweet at all. I’ll definitely be back to try the mixed nut in the future. Thanks for sharing, Jan!!

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  12. @Ryan C.

    Glad to have introduced you to new food and expanded your taste buds to go with that new job :). Try an exotic flavour like green tea—makes people think it’s good for them too! Don’t wait too long though, the festival’s over and very soon store shelves will have replaced them with other items.

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  13. @ airbiscuit,

    I came across your pictures on ClubSnap and thought I recognised that name but was uncertain until your post here. I’ve never been to a temple in any of the districts in Brunei on a celebrated occasion. Thinking back, there may have been one that I had photographed several weeks leading up to Chinese New Year.

    Reading your note “All done with the 85 and 12-24 with all shots underexposed by 1 stop for ambient” is the colour cast true to the location’s ambient? I see greenish tint that would be more suited for a different occasion (no offence intended but you get the idea)

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  14. Heya again JS,

    Oh the greenish tint that you see in all the pictures are done from a “cross processing” technique I came across recently.

    The real ambient lightning is totally not like that at all, it is much much “better”.

    And no worries I do get the idea of what you mean 🙂

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  15. Love the charm of the moon. Mooncakes, on the other hand, give me the cringe… too sweet. But it’s the revelry and camaraderie of friends, relatives and family members getting together to celebrate an occasion that makes it meaningful. Not so much to commemorate the victorious overthrow of the Mongols and the consequent sacking of the Yuan dynasty in 1368 but in celebration of the harvest, happiness and health. Thanks for sharing.

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