The Mooncake or The Fruitcake: Which do your prefer?

     It was a fight to get through the lower levels of the Mouer Department Store in Luzhou, China. The entire population of this Yangtze River town seemed to be here. I pressed in close and peered over the customers, who were sampling and discussing some item of great importance.

            What was the big draw? None other than the yue bing, or mooncake.

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            Much like the Christmas fruitcake in the United States, the mooncake is not really a cake at all. It is a heavy mass of pasty substance, usually the size of your palm, encased in either a soft dough or flaky crust. Fillings abound, such as hard-boiled egg yokes, shaved dried beef, sweet red-bean paste, coconut, minced walnuts, sesame seeds and pine nuts.

            All year, thousands of yue bing make their way into every shop, grocery, market and department store across the country.  It’s especially prevalent around festival times, and when I was in China, it seemed that a majority of these traditional goodies found their way into my home.

            As a teacher in China, never had I been able to escape the bombardment of yue bing, especially during Christmastime. After every Christmas Open House I held, over 14 parties for 350-plus students, colleagues and friends,  everyone would bring what was considered the perfect gift for a foreigner: mooncakes. 

Student Party

These would descend upon me with a vengeance. In my small apartment on the college campus , the mooncake pile kept rapidly growing all through December, much like a persistent fungus.

          “We want to share our culture with you!” my holiday guests called out as they thrust into my hands boxes and bags of this festival snack food. Even the school administration officials got in on the act. On formal visits to my home for Christmas, they were often laden with regional mooncake specialties presented in ostentatiously decorated boxes.

         I appreciated their kindness, but at the same time, I was always at a loss what to do with my nightmarish hoard.

         Strangely enough, like the Christmas fruitcake, mooncakes were something of a joke. My beaming well-wishers proclaimed them “delicious,” but when the Chinese were questioned, their responses were not so complimentary.

“Too sweet,” students said with a frown.

           “Too fattening,” my colleagues declared.

           “Too many!” my friends groaned.

So while it seemed that everyone gave these things away as gifts, no one really liked to eat them.

Now here I am, still in the States, where it’s not the mooncake disposal dilemma I’m stuck with but the fruitcake.  There are 3 sent from family and friends sitting in my mom’s fridge, and another just arrived in a Harry & David 3-tiered gift box. 

 I thought I might be able to pawn some of the stash off on Bridget, our immigrant dog from China. 

Perhaps she would appreciate having a little taste of Americana.  But, alas, she took one tiny nibble and spat the rest out on the floor.

I guess every culture has its preferences, and looks like in this family, whether you be from China or America, fruitcake isn’t one of them.

“The worst gift is a fruitcake.  There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”   Johnny Carson

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
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1 Response to The Mooncake or The Fruitcake: Which do your prefer?

  1. Kate says:

    Loved your story telling of the “moon cakes” As newbees in Fuyang 2005 we received too many, too. So we gathered them into bags and walked around the campus passing them out to every student we could find. We were a novelty in ourselves and the “Foreign Teacher” giving away moon cakes quickly made the grapevine on campus. Actually, if we were passing thru Marshall, I would have a small slice of fruit cake with a cup of tea with you….just for old times sake.

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