(L-R - Alex, Jenny, Indi and Mei Yong at Lotus Vegetarian Market. Photo credit - Max Veenhuyzen)
Where it all began
Growing up in a house filled with passionate (slightly obsessed) food lovers, my childhood was spent learning traditional Chinese Malaysian recipes from my Grandma, baking bread with my Uncles and watching my Dad hand make mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
One of my fondest memories was being propped up on a chair, kneading hand pulled noodles and stirring a big pot of soup that had been boiling for hours on end. Oh if you could only smell the aromas!
Grandma would cook every day and night to feed fifteen of us in the family home. No easy feat and we were all always grateful to never experience a day where we went without a hearty home cooked meal on the table. Oh and plus the abundance of after school snacks
Grateful and full are definitely two words to describe this foodie’s childhood!
(Handmade mooncakes made by my Dad and served with Chinese tea)
Continuing the tradition across three generations
When we moved to Perth, Australia from Malaysia, we brought the same love for food and what lies more underneath that - the importance of family, traditions, celebrating and preserving the culture we grew up with.
A melting pot culture of my Buddhist/Taoist/Hindu family, and our celebrations according to the lunar calendar.
One important celebration that three generations of my family have kept strong - my parents, my siblings and I and now my daughter Indi - has been the making of the well known Mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival is also called the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival.
Every year at the start of August, my Dad takes his wooden mooncake moulds out of storage to begin the preparations of making multiples - and I mean - a lot of mooncakes!
The Festival traditionally falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. This is when the moon is the fullest and brightest in the year.
In the past, the Mid-Autumn Festival was celebrated at harvest time. Ancient Chinese emperors worshiped the moon in autumn to thank it for the harvest. The ordinary people took the Mid-Autumn Festival to be a celebration of their hard work and harvest.
According to folk tales, secret messages were baked into the mooncakes by the Ming revolutionaries in their effort to overthrow the Mongolian rules of China at the end of the Yuan Dynasty. Nowadays, people mainly celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival as a time for family reunions.
During the festival, these traditional Chinese pastries called moon cakes are shared and eaten with loved ones.
(Vegan mooncakes available at Lotus Vegetarian Market)
I crave, you crave, we all crave for mooncakes
My Dad Alex, is a hardworking and generous man who learnt the fine craftsmanship of mooncake making 30 years ago.
He has also been supplying the people of Perth with a limited batch each year for selling at his shop- Lotus Vegetarian Market in Northbridge- which is one of the first vegetarian grocery stores in Perth.
Dad would make these decadent desserts out of a thin layer of pastry wrapped around a dense sweet filling.
The filling can be almost anything, although the most traditional cakes will use a lotus bean paste and include a boiled duck egg yolk as a representation of the full moon. Other traditional flavours are lotus paste, red bean or mung bean paste, jujube paste and 5 nuts and seeds.
Dad’s mooncakes have a very distinctive look, which comes from the decorations on their tops from the moulds that the cakes are formed in, and which he has owned for the last 30 years!
“There are imperfections that make each mooncake different from the last. There’s an energy and love that goes into it, which people say you can taste” Dad explained to me.
Dad pays homage to the traditional flavours and showcases his flavourful masterpieces for only two months of the year.
And boy, during those two months, you Perth foodies keep him busy filling up shelves that get empty pretty quickly. Thanks everyone.
(Gift these Chinese delicacies to your loved ones to celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival)
But it’s more than just mooncakes
When I look back at every Mid-Autumn Festival and Dad’s mooncake moulds and baking, I start to appreciate more than just the food.
My Dad has been an amazing role model for my daughter and I. Through his years of service, providing hearty, accessible vegan meals via Sri Melaka and Lotus, he’s taught us how to live a noble life guided by Taoist principles - a life of simplicity and harmony from serving others through his love of food.
And of course, that teaching fuels my own passion to share good, authentic food for families everywhere! Talking about keeping it in the family, I think it is something that is also strong with our next family generation.
On the weekend, I took my 7 year old daughter Indi to Mum and Dad’s market to show her the amount of time and patience it takes to make the beautiful mooncakes.
Three generations were in one room that day passing down valuable knowledge of traditions, culture and of course, love of food. A simple reminder how important these face to face multigenerational sharing sessions are for us all to learn, bond and grow together.
Food is ingrained in my family, our blood and culture. It brings people together.
It runs deep and pulses through every conversation and every moment we sit together to ‘break bread’ (or in the case of our Asian family, scoff down a bowl of warm rice or slurp through a bowl of noodle soup).
My heart is full (just as it was with my early years with Grandma) when I see my daughter embracing and loving the traditions that help keep us grounded as individuals and connected as community members.Read more about Mei and Our Story here.