Good Moon Rising

Cover Story Features

August 4, 2013

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo

Ala Moana Hotel is home to Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant, an oasis of superb cuisine centered around Hong Kong-style culinary craftsmanship. And from now through Sept. 19, Royal Garden is celebrating the Chinese holiday, affectionately termed Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival, in which the positioning of the moon is key. It’s believed that during this time the moon is at its farthest point from the earth, making it appear perfectly vibrant and full. The holiday falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Asian lunar calendar and is a time for families to come together, for farmers to celebrate their successful harvest, and for everyone to count their blessings and honor generations past.

Step into Royal Garden’s kitchen and you’ll find executive chef Johnny Wong, a veteran at the restaurant, effortlessly creating and shaping moon cakes especially for the Moon Festival (Sept. 19).

“Chef Johnny started making moon cakes for his family years ago, then he made them for our kitchen staff and our customers.

Everyone said his moon cakes were so good and told him that he should sell them at the restaurant. We’ve been making moon cakes for more than a decade already,” says restaurant manager Ian Tam, who also notes that moon cakes are made daily to guarantee absolute freshness.

At the center of a traditional moon cake is salted duck egg yolk, which is nestled between a filling of red bean or lotus paste, or a mixture of meat and nuts. The mixture is encased in a sweet pastry shell, perfectly shaped by a moon cake mold and embellished with the restaurant’s name in Chinese characters.

“We use the best ingredients with absolutely no preservatives,” confirms owner Calvin Wong. “We only use vegetable oil and we use top-grade lotus seed paste. The lotus seed paste is from Hunan province in China — it’s the best lotus seed paste available.”

Royal Garden’s moon cake varieties include top-sellers such as White Lotus Seed Paste with Double Egg Yolk ($25.95 for a box of four, $35.95 gift set), White Lotus Seed Paste with Single Egg Yolk ($23.95 for a box of four) and Mixed Nuts Moon Cake ($25.95 for a box of four), along with White Lotus Seed Paste with Olive Nuts ($22.95 for a box of four), Mini White Lotus Seed Paste with Egg Yolk ($17.95 for a box of eight), Red Bean Paste with Single Egg Yolk ($23.95 for a box of four) and Red Bean Paste with Olive Nuts ($22.95 for a box of four).

According to Tam, this dense pastry is meant to be shared and eaten with tea before or during the Moon Festival. The egg yolk represents the moon, so it’s best if the moon cake be cut into quarters so that each person receives part of the yolk.

“During Moon Festival, everyone comes home to visit their family. The moon cake signifies the family sticking together,” Tam explains. “Everyone must have some.”

“When I was a child we would celebrate the Moon Festival with lanterns that all the children would play with and enjoy,” Wong adds. “Besides moon cake, we would eat fruits such as star fruit and persimmon, as well as taro and peanuts.”

Since moon cakes are only available during the time of the Moon Festival, they are considered to be highly coveted treats, which Royal Garden’s chefs create with great precision and care. Each moon cake is also individually wrapped and boxed with the restaurant’s specially made gift boxes from Hong Kong. Royal Garden is also renowned for its Giant Moon Cake — on display at the entrance of the restaurant and made with top-grade white lotus seed paste. Tam says the ingredients needed for this super-sized creation are equivalent to 256 regularsized moon cakes.

“Every year, we’ve noticed that the moon cakes become increasingly popular, so we have to start baking more and selling them earlier to keep up with the demand,” he states. “Moon cakes won’t be sold after the Moon Festival, so we advise that if people want to enjoy it in the following weeks after the festival that they refrigerate the moon cakes, which will last for two more weeks.”

Royal Garden’s freshly made Moon Festival treats are only available while supplies last. If you plan on purchasing moon cakes Sept. 19, Tam recommends calling the restaurant ahead of time to check on the cakes’ availability.

Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant

Ala Moana hotel, third floor
410 Atkinson Drive
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch)
Saturday-sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch)
Daily, 5:30-10 p.m. (dinner)

Ala Moana Center, Honolulu, HI 96814

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