The Delicious Side Of the Moon
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When the full moon rises into the mid-autumn night sky next month, families in China will come together to celebrate the annual Moon Festival. While spending valuable time together, they’ll honor the harvest, the full moon and all the rejuvenation and symbolism that come along with them. In the months leading up to this joyous holiday, it is customary to munch on moon cakes, and thanks to the fresh assortment baked up at Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant daily, you, too, can take a bite of this tradition.
“Every year, before the Moon Festival, people like to eat moon cake to celebrate. Usually we will offer it about two months before the day of the Moon Festival. We only sell it during this special time period,” explains owner Calvin Wong.
To usher in these specialty pastries, the upscale oasis of Cantonese Hong Kong-style fare recently unveiled a spectacularly Giant Moon Cake that sits at the entrance of the restaurant and spreads festive joy. It will stay on display as long as the moon cakes are on sale, which is until Sept. 27, the arrival of the festival in Western calendars.
In keeping with Royal Garden’s reputation for serving outstanding-quality fare, the fresh moon cakes are in a class of their own. This quality can be attributed to the attention to detail put forth by Wong and his brother Johnny, who co-owns the restaurant and serves as executive chef. After 29 years of operating Royal Garden at Ala Moana Hotel, and prior experience running the popular Capital Chinese Restaurant on Keeaumoku Street, the brothers have fine-tuned the tools and prowess needed to perfect their offerings.
Royal Garden’s moon cakes feature lotus seed paste sourced from Wunan province in Southern China, which, according to Wong, produces the highest-quality product. To ensure the lotus seed flavor is maximized, Wong goes so far as to have the paste custom processed in Hong Kong using only vegetable oil and reduced sugar, rendering a healthier pastry with just the right touch of sweetness.
These circular treats are baked with a variety of flavors and sold in box sets. Traditional boxes of White Lotus Seed Paste with Single Egg Yolk ($26.95) or Double Egg Yolk ($28.95) feature whole egg yolks inside, which resemble the full moon when the cake is cut open. Other moon-cake options range from $25.95 to $28.95 and are prepared with various flavors such as red bean paste, pine nuts and mixed nuts. A box of eight Mini White Lotus Seed Paste with Egg Yolk moon cakes also is offered for $19.95.
“Usually when people eat moon cake, they also drink Chinese tea together with it,” explains Wong. That’s why the eatery’s Gift Set ($39.95) is an ideal selection, as it comes with four traditional moon cakes and a case of tea.
Wong shares that there are many legends surrounding the origin of Chinese moon cake. Folklore describes the Han ethnic group using the cakes to conceal secret messages to revolt against the reigning Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty.
While honoring this storied history, patrons will appreciate the purity that is served in each breaded treat filled with soft, chewy and flavorful lotus seed paste. This authenticity comes from the fact that Royal Garden does not use preservatives when baking its moon cakes. And while the eatery sells 6,000-7,000 boxes of them each year, guests also are welcomed to enjoy moon cake when dining at the restaurant.
So go ahead, have your moon cake and eat it too!
Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant
Ala Moana Hotel, third floor
410 Atkinson Drive
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m.;
Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m.