One of the things I love most about international travel is learning about other cultures; the customs, family traditions, rituals, holidays, food, etc. So much to learn and never enough time!
Even though I have not yet been to China (trust me, it’s on my travel list) I was so fortunate to have a unique experience at The Peninsula Chicago to learn about an upcoming Chinese holiday called the Mid-Autumn Festival (on September 27 this year). This festival is touted as one of the most important festivals on the Chinese calendar (only second to the Chinese New Year), and dates back centuries from the tradition of worshipping the Goddess of the Moon and celebrating the harvest. This festive season is a reunion time with family and close friends where all enjoy delicious food, tea, watching the full moon and enjoying a specialty dessert called mooncakes.
Mooncakes are serious business in Asia and sell out like hotcakes during this time of year (ha ha, bad joke I know). Traditionally these handmade desserts are somewhat heavy and made with lotus paste , but here in Chicago under the guidance of Chef Elmo Han of Shanghai Terrace, a lighter version of the egg custard treats are created by hand. The resemblance of these mooncakes was in both taste and texture to a butter shortbread cookie. All I know is that it was very delicious and I wanted more than one!
To celebrate this festive time, The Peninsula Chicago has all kinds of fabulous Mid-Autumn Festival inspired offerings including an “AfterMoon Tea”, Bamboo Harmonizer Massage at the spa and a six-course authentic dim sum menu offered at Shanghai Terrace. I tried the dim sum menu and absolutely loved it. Just so you know, Shanghai Terrace is very accommodating of any dietary restrictions and made an unbelievable vegetarian menu just for me. Here’s what I had:
Shanghai Trio – vegetable spring roll, Buddhism roll, vegetable dumpling
Crispy Tofu – garlic, green bean, onions, jalapeno
Vegetable Soup – broccoli, carrots, bamboo, mushroom and spring onion
Steamed King Mushroom – garlic sauce, seasonal vegetables, bok choy and coriander soy
Jade Vegetables – asparagus, zucchini, cashew nuts, broccoli, lotus root and garlic
Homemade Mooncake and Red Bean Pudding
Not only did I get to enjoy this unbelievable menu to commemorate the Mid-Autumn Festival, but Chef Elmo did a demo on how to make mooncakes. I saw how much time and effort went into making these delicacies and while fully appreciative, I will just stick to my role in consuming them.
Overall, I absolutely loved learning about this special Chinese holiday and some of the wonderful traditions and customs associated with it. Don’t miss your chance to learn and taste some of the fabulous traditions of Mid-Autumn Festival if you can’t make it to China in the next two weeks!