A Gen Z Ang-Moh-Pai’s Take on Mid-Autumn Festival

Header image adapted from (Source: Visit Singapore)

Celebrating traditions and heritage

 

Although I’m Teochew, I find that I rarely introduce myself as one whenever I greet someone. Additionally, my parents and grandparents like to remark that I’m an ang moh pai (a Westernised Chinese). I really can’t blame them — I don’t speak the language, or know very much about the traditions and history of Teochew in Singapore. Compared to my older relatives, I feel like being Teochew barely impacts my identity as a Singaporean woman. 

 

That said, while that’s true for a good 90% of the year, there’s one season that never fails to remind me of my cultural roots, and that’s the Mid-Autumn Festival. When my family gets busy making traditional mooncakes, I always feel a surge of deep appreciation for them and my Teochew roots. It’s a heart-warming feeling, though sometimes accompanied by a twinge of guilt as I feel that I don’t treasure my dialect group nearly enough. This year is no different. 

 

Finding out more about the tradition

Every year, in the weeks or so leading up to Mid-Autumn Festival, my family would start planning and talking about making the traditional Teochew mooncakes, or in Teochew, lao pia. Ever since young, I’ve looooved these mooncakes. When done the traditional way, Teochew mooncakes are “sinful” cakes made with pork fat, with either savoury or sweet fillings. My ideal Teochew mooncake has a flaky pastry crust filled with my favourite mashed taro filling and a generous bite of salted egg yolk in the middle. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it?

 

Just last year, I cheekily asked my dad why mooncakes are only eaten during Mid-Autumn festival, in hopes that it could be a year-round thing. And to my surprise, he said we could eat mooncakes anytime! According to him, mooncakes symbolise togetherness (with the round shape) and they’re not just consumed during Mid-Autumn Festival. The roundness is similar to a full moon that represents prosperity, hence their popularity specifically during the harvest moon and the Mid-Autumn Festival. 

 

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This made me realise that mooncakes are not just yummy snacks, but also a significant part of Chinese culture that symbolises our harmony and respect towards each other. It’s no wonder why my parents and grandparents wish to keep up the tradition of making mooncakes and gathering every year. Apart from a day or two spent making mooncakes, my family also goes on an annual lantern walk, carrying our brightly lit, colourful lanterns on a stroll in the nearby park. 

 

My family gathering for a meal (Credit: Vanessa Kwan) 

 

Making the tradition our own

My grandmother’s Teochew mooncake recipe has passed down from generations before, but if there’s one thing I really appreciate about her is how she is very open to reinventing and changing up the flavours. 

 

In fact, before our mooncake-making sessions each year, we would have a family discussion to see what new flavours we can incorporate. I fondly remember when I came up with the idea to add chocolate truffles, surrounded by orange paste and topped with the traditional Teochew mooncake crust. My brother, on the other hand, added parmesan cheese and Bolognese sauce to create a pasta mooncake. It was very… unconventional indeed, but my entire family ended up liking it (well, some more than others)! I remember that moment so vividly because I genuinely felt happy to see my entire family so full of glee, having a good laugh together. 

 

Durian Snowskin Mooncake (Credit: The Meatmen)

The way I see it, there’s always value in putting the old and new together. Blending contemporary flavours, like mala and bubble tea into traditional mooncake recipes can definitely excite the younger generation and prevent traditional delicacies from becoming something of a bygone age. At the same time, making it a point to celebrate the tradition and come together every year builds up family bonds and creates new memories. If possible, I would definitely like to continue to involve my own children in the future and to keep this tradition alive. 

 

Mid-Autumn Festival to me

More than just about the mooncakes, Mid-Autumn Festival reunites loved ones and serves as an important reminder, amidst the hectic and chaotic everyday life, of the importance of treasuring and spending quality time with each other. I honestly cannot thank my parents and grandparents enough for upholding this tradition, even when us kids didn’t always cooperate. Although at times I feel far removed from my Teochew roots, the Mid-Autumn Festival reminds me every year of how proud I am to be born and raised a Teochew, and more importantly, as part of the Kwan family. 

 

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