Saturday 23 June 2007

Chinese Red Bean Cakes

I had heard tell of a Chinese supermarket in the city centre and so today I went in search of it. I found it quite easily and was amazed at the variety and quantity of exotic looking vegetables, dried fish, noodles, sauces and rice there was available. It was set out like a proper little supermarket, with isles and mini shopping trolleys and was run by a group of very friendly Chinese people. There was even a section dedicated to bowls, soup spoons, chopsticks, bamboo mats and rice steamers to complete the selection.

I should think the noodle section was the biggest. It had rice noodles, egg noodles, wheat noodles, seaweed and buckwheat of all different thicknesses and lengths. There was even some rice macaroni which I have never come across before. There was also an interesting flat green rice noodle, which on closer inspection turned out to be flavoured with green tea. I was sorely temped to buy some but having already got half a cupboard full of noodles I decided I could always come back another time when I have eaten through some of my supply.

One thing I was particularly looking out for was Moon Cakes. I have heard a great deal about these special little decorative pastry cakes that are commonly filled with red bean paste or other sweet treats and have never yet tried any. I had previously been on the shops website (to get directions) and on it they had a list of products which included quite an assortment of Moon Cakes. I found the isle dedicated to sweet treats but couldn’t see anything that resembled a Moon Cake. I asked a very friendly counter assistant if they had any and was told that they are only around at the end of July to the beginning of October as they are made to celebrate a mid autumn festival, rather like how Easter eggs are only around at Easter. I felt very foolish but he didn’t seem to mind and pointed out another pastry cake that he said was made using exactly the same pastry and filling but in slab form rather than cake. I thanked him and eagerly bought the pastry.
They are made with a soft, light, doughy pastry that surrounds a deep dark red filling, making them look rather like a giant fig roll. I broke off a piece when waiting for the bus, unable to wait until I got home in my eagerness to find out what they tasted like. It was like nothing I have ever had before. At first it’s just sweet but then a strong, yet not overpowering, spicy flavour develops. It began to remind me of something and I decided its ginger, as it was spicy and warming at the same time. However, I think there if definitely more to it than just that. The filling was wonderful, thick and slightly sticky. It had a slightly mealy texture whilst still being smooth which I suppose is due to the ground red beans, similar to the texture of houmous or a cake made using ground almonds. The whole pastry had been given a lovely shiny glaze which made it even more appealing. It smelt strongly of molasses or black treacle and yet didn't taste like there was any in the actual cake. I'm so intrigued as to how it was made. Overall I absolutely loved it, so different to anything I have had before. I’m definitely going to go back later on to try and get my hands on some genuine Moon cakes.

Click here to read more on Moon Cakes.

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