Mooncakes, ‘hakaw,’ ‘xiao long bao’ for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival
In Chinese tradition, the Mid-Autumn Festival or Mooncake Festival is an auspicious occasion to bond and strengthen ties with family, relatives, friends, and even business associates through food.
“It’s a thanksgiving celebration where the whole family can come together, have fun and eat to their hearts’ content,” says Lawrence Sy Lato, director of Choi Palace, a popular Chinese seafood and shark’s fin restaurant in Eastwood City, QC.
The Mooncake Festival is observed annually during the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. This year, it falls on Sept. 30.
Since last month, most Chinese restaurants have been busy serving different varieties of mooncake to welcome the lucky day. Choi Palace offers mooncakes filled with taro, green tea, salted duck egg and lin yong (lotus seed paste), prepared by its chefs who come all the way from Hong Kong.
Apart from mooncakes, Choi Palace, with its recently revamped menu, has also created a wide array of dishes for those who would like to celebrate the festival in the comfort and spacious elegance of its restaurant.
For starters, the assorted lechon cold cuts platter should perk up one’s appetite. Though it’s one of the more common appetizers in Chinese restaurants, the roasted duck meat is surprisingly moist and tender, especially when dipped in hoisin sauce, plum sauce or mustard sauce.
The roast pork slices are equally flavorful, offering a nice layering of fat and topped with crispy skin.
Choi Palace, which opened in December 2010 along with its sister restaurants—Choi Garden in Greenhills; HK Choi in Megamall; and Choi City in Cebu—has become popular for its xiao long bao dumplings.
“They are meticulously made by our Hong Kong chef who’s assigned to do just that,” says Robert Ng, Choi Palace resident manager. “A special technique is done in making the dough, filling it with minced pork, and folding it gently to seal the bundle.”
Choi Palace’s xiao long bao is firm but elastic, and holds moisture without breaking. Delicious with black vinegar and ginger, it is freshly made and served steaming hot.
Another favorite is hakaw or shrimp dumplings. The firm, tasty and sweet flesh of the shrimp demonstrates how the owners adhere to Hong Kong cuisine’s strict requirement of using only the freshest ingredients. The dumpling comes in a special sweet, translucent rice paper—a nice change from the yellowish egg wrapper we are accustomed to.
For a more festive spread, Choi Palace presents an assortment of fresh seafood like crabs and lobsters prepared and cooked in a multitude of ways—steamed, baked, or in coconut milk, curry, olive oil and ginger onion, or prepared with sotanghon or rice in a pot, or simply in salt and pepper. The seafood is kept fresh and alive right up to cooking.
The nine aquariums lining the rear wall near the entrance also keep live bounty, such as shrimps (suahe), groupers of different species (lapu-lapu), sea mantis, etc.
One dish that should not be missed in the festivity is the Cereal Prawn, sautéed in Quaker Oats, ginger and garlic. The flesh is, again, firm and sweet. No need for a dipping sauce.
For desserts, take your pick: coffee jelly, mango pudding, sweetened red bean soup, taro sago, almond jelly with lychee, and sweet bun with salted egg yolk.
The owner and founder of the Choi group of restaurants, Choi Tak Pui, now 81, has made sure his restaurants are also dressed in festive Chinese lanterns, which are a tradition in most Chinese homes. And, at least once a month, he travels to Hong Kong to monitor the latest food trends in the industry.
Choi Palace, Seafood and Shark’s Fin Restaurant, is on the 3/F, Eastwood Mall Veranda, Libis, QC (tel. 7067807 to 09). It is open for lunch and dinner.
PHOTOS BY ARNOLD ALMACEN