Tired of the same old tired orange chicken and California rolls? Want to venture beyond the standard suburban-stale take-out? Here comes Chop PHX, with the Valley's rarer Asian offerings.
This Week: Mooncakes from the Super L Ranch Market bakery in the Chinese Cultural Center (668 North 44th Street, Phoenix)
The Basics Mooncakes are a traditional pastry that is prepared and consumed in virtually every culture in Asia. They are traditionally served during the mid-autumn Moon Festival, which is celebrated, unsurprisingly, to correspond with a full moon.
According to Judy Lai, the wife of Super L Ranch Market's owner, families treat the Moon Festival like another Thanksgiving. Families get to together, gorge on delicious food and exchange mooncakes as gifts.
The mooncakes themselves vary greatly with regard to precise filling and preparation. The most traditional basic style uses a tender crust to encircle sweetened lotus seed paste and an egg yolk. Other versions include chopped seeds and nuts, date paste and red or mung bean paste.
More about mini-mooncakes after the jump.
Super L Ranch Market Mooncakes: These mooncakes are actually mini-mooncakes, prepared Taiwanese style. I bought two flavors: Lotus bean and red bean. Of the two the lotus bean mooncake had the most interesting taste. It tasted almost as rich as the red bean paste but lighter and slightly more complex.
Lai said that it takes a full week to prepare mooncakes. The first step is creating a syrup by boiling sugar, water and dash of vinegar. The resulting syrup must sit for an entire week to before it is stable enough to incorporated into the moon cake dough. Once it is incorporated though, it must be rolled out, filled and baked relatively quickly.
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Lai said that the market started making their mooncakes without egg yolk because of health concerns with the already rich pastry. She also noted that mooncakes prepared without the yolk are popular with people who are abiding by a vegetarian Buddhist diet.
The official date across Asia for the mid-autumn Moon Festival is Sepetember 12th. If you are interested in checking out a Vietnamese style Moon Festival, Mekong Plaza is hosting their own festival this Saturday. Super L Ranch Market plans to keep the cakes stocked until at least Monday.