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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 September, 2003, 21:05 GMT 22:05 UK
Hong Kong's mooncake makers
By Kate McGeown
BBC News Online

In the run-up to Hong Kong's Moon Festival, the employees of the Kee Wah bakery have been hard at work.

"We've been working every day now for the last 60 days," said Kee Wah's Johnny Chan. "We've made about three million mooncakes so far."

Mooncakes are synonymous with the Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, which begins on Thursday and lasts for three days.

Mooncakes on sale at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel ( photo courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental)
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel has a special line in mooncakes
In many parts of East Asia, families are gathering together - with their traditional coloured lanterns and, of course, their mooncakes - to celebrate one of the region's largest annual festivals.

From the luxury cakes on display at Hong Kong's finest hotels, to the home-made versions created in countless kitchens around the territory, Hong Kong's mooncakes come in many different flavours.

The most popular ones are made of sweet lotus paste baked with salted egg yolks, wrapped up a pastry case.

But in recent years, such ingredients as coffee, chocolate and even lychees have been added to give a modern twist to the traditional recipes.

The Kee Wah bakery makes dozens of different types, based on Chinese regional variations.

"The Cantonese-style cakes have a shiny finish, and are filled with a lotus seed paste," said Johnny Chan.

"In the northern regions, the cakes are less sweet and are often filled with nuts or even meat," he added.

Low-fat mooncakes

But despite their central role in the Mid-Autumn festival, Mr Chan said that mooncake orders had declined over recent years.

Part of the reason, he said, was that people in Hong Kong were becoming more health-conscious.

In the last few years, it has become quite trendy to have low-fat versions
Johnny Chan
"Traditional mooncakes are made with a lot of oil and sugar," he explained.

"In the last few years, it has become quite trendy to have low-fat versions instead. We have high fibre, low sugar mooncakes on sale this year."

But another reason for the mooncake's decline in popularity, he said, was that the Moon Festival was becoming more commercialised - and people focused less on the traditional celebrations and more on the exchange of gifts.

"Many of our mooncakes are sold to businessmen who give them to their clients as presents," he said.

Even the traditional paper lanterns associated with the Moon Festival are being altered by commercialism, Mr Chan said.

"Many of the new lanterns are plastic, with battery-operated lights instead of candles. Some even play music," he said.

Legends of the Moon

The Moon Festival has been celebrated in East Asia for centuries, and there are many legends to explain its origin.

One tells the story of a beautiful woman called Chang Er, who was believed to have taken a pill containing the elixir of life, and to have flown to the moon to escape from her husband, a tyrannical warrior.

Lanterns on sale in Hong Kong
Lanterns are also an essential part of the Mid-Autumn Festival
According to the tale, Chang Er can be seen at full-moon in mid-autumn, which corresponds to the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

The exact date in the Western calendar varies from year to year, but usually falls in September.

The mooncake itself is said to commemorate a rebellion against the Mongolian Yuan dynasty in the 14th century.

Knowing the Moon Festival was approaching, local Chinese rebels are said to have communicated with each other by writing messages which they hid inside seasonal cakes.

On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew their Yuan rulers to form the Ming dynasty.

Hence, today, moon-shaped pastries are exchanged as gifts.

This year will be no exception, and the people of Hong Kong - as well as many other parts of the region - will light lanterns and take to the streets in celebration.

But Johnny Chan will not be among them.

"I'm think I'm too old for all that," he said.

Read a selection of your comments below.

I just got home from celebrating the festival on the beach
Tony, Hong Kong
I just got home from celebrating the festival on the beach. We played with lanterns (the plastic kind) and ate fruit and mooncakes. This year was my first time to try the ice-cream mooncakes, with Haagen Daaz favours... very good!
Unfortunately my girlfriend is studying in England. Later tonight I'm going outside to see if we can both look at the moon at the same time, even though we are thousands of miles apart. Not sure if it will work though.
I think the feeling of being away from your loved ones is central to the literature of this festival, and it is something that I feel tonight.
Tony, Hong Kong

This is the first time I spent the Moon Festival in US. I brought some moon cakes to share with my American colleagues, some of them are like it, some are shocked by the combination flavour of the sweet lotus paste with salty egg yolks. I had a good and special festival time here.
Minchao, China

Born and raised to respect the august moon in Thailand, I have been doing this festival in Boston for 25 years now. Again, I am ready for it, got tons of mooncakes from Boston Chinatown yesterday.
Have a wonderful festival!!!
S Saejong, Boston, USA

I have bought mooncakes and a paper lantern
Hanno Stamm, Vietnam
My Vietnamese wife and my daughter are not with me tonight. But I have bought mooncakes and a paper lantern (not the plastic kind) for my daughter to give to her next time I see her. Whilst my family will stay awake with friends tonight, I will also celebrate with my Vietnamese colleagues here at work
Hanno Stamm, Vietnam

I only came to know the festival this year when a colleague of Chinese origin brought some mooncakes for us. Anyway, we enjoyed this event immensely.
Syed Naqvi, France

Since I live in the UK, there are no lanterns here. Although the situation is like this, I will still go to China town in Manchester to get some mooncakes and share them with my friends.
Sam Wong, Manchester, UK

To me the mid-autumn festival is going to the beach at Silvermine Bay with my friends, digging tunnels in the sand and placing candles in them, having lanterns, mooncakes and a picnic, sitting up talking and laughing until late, before going to a nearby village for the making and launch of a huge 10 foot tall paper lantern/balloon which we watch drift off into the night sky, powered by paraffin soaked rags. This year, I've moved to India, so will miss my favourite time of year in Hong Kong!
Lindsay Shepherd, India/Hong Kong

In my country, most residents now tend to have some barbecues with their beloved families or friends. Another point is that there are many new kinds of mooncakes. Not only lychees, chocolate or coffee, but also ice cream!
Jessie Chen, Taiwan, R.O.C

I used to live in Hong Kong and the Moon Festival was always my favourite festival because of its poetic atmosphere. Take a walk through the Western District of HK Island at dusk and see the shops selling lanterns in all shapes and colours; watch the dragon dance its way through the streets of Causeway Bay or take a picnic on the beach at Discovery Bay.
Anne, UK

If you are planning to visit a place with the largest varity of mooncakes in the world, surprisingly it has to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My favourite mooncakes are the following...the top 10...

1) Tiramisu mooncakes....yummy!!
2) Chicken floss mooncakes
3) Green tea mooncakes
4) Pandan mooncakes
5) Durian mooncakes
6) Ice cream mooncakes (variety of flavours)
7) Chocolate mooncakes
8) Jelly mooncakes
9) Lotus seeds with double yolks mooncakes
10) Peanut mooncakes

and many more!!!

Happy Moon Festival!
KK Wong, Malaysia

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