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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, October 19

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Event Thu Sep 17 2015

Celebrate Mid-Autumn with Mooncakes

The Peninsula Chicago Moon Mooncakes.JPG

While the end of September marks the the beginning of fall, it is also the celebration of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, a historic holiday second to the Chinese New Year celebrating harvest time and the brightest moon of the year.

Dating backing to the Shang Dynasty, the festival falls on either the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese Han calendar or on the night of the full moon between September and October. This year's celebration happens to fall on Sept. 27. Regions and families celebrate it differently, but one elemental part of the festival is the eating of the mooncake -- a traditional, palm-sized baked sweetcake with a dense filling -- usually accompanied by tea.

There are various theories about how the mooncake came to be of importance -- in one, the mooncake is a symbol of worship to the Chinese goddess of the moon, Chang E; in another, it is a reminder of its contribution to the Han revolt against the Mongols. (According to myth, the mooncakes were stuffed with a note to the Hans to rise and kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the eighth month.)

Like fruitcake, the mooncake could have faced a similar fate, but it avoided becoming the gift no one wanted when Chef Yip of the Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong took a contemporary spin on the dense cake in the late 1980s, replacing it with a light, egg custard recipe. Now, the hotel sells out each year, producing nearly 500,000 handmade cakes each festival. Today, the mooncake in some circles has even expanded as a cultural symbol of status and wealth.

Since 2013, The Peninsula Chicago (108 E. Superior) has been continuing the tradition started by Yip at its sister hotel with specially-made mooncakes, made in-house by chef Elmo Han of Shanghai Terrace. To celebrate the festival this year, the hotel will be offering a Mid-Autumn Festival package, Chicago-style, which includes authentic mooncakes, a dim-sum inspired menu, "AfterMoon Tea" in the Lobby and a festival-themed "Moon" cocktail. Traditional to current practice, the Peninsula will also have a mooncake box set for sale in the boutique that includes accompanying tea bags. To reserve a box, call 312-573-6695.

For other bakeries around town offering mooncakes, check out Wan Shi Da Bakery & Cafe and La Patisserie P.

Image courtesy of the Peninsula Chicago

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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