Bright lights and a full moon herald the Mid-Autumn Festival at the Expo. [Yong Kai/China Daily]
It's time to munch on moon cakes and enjoy the full moon, so head to the Expo.
The Expo Park turns out to be the perfect location for people to enjoy the moonlight, eat moon cakes and hold reunion dinners with families as the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches.
This year, the Mid-Autumn Festival, the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, falls on Sept 22. It is a popular harvest festival celebrated by the Chinese and Vietnamese. It is the date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar when the moon reaches its fullest and roundest position.
For generations, moon cakes, the traditional food eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, have been made with sweet fillings of nuts, mashed red beans, lotus-seed paste or Chinese dates wrapped in a pastry. In some cases, a cooked egg yolk can be found in the middle of this rich dessert.
Since earlier this month, Expo Garden has been in Mid-Autumn Festival mode, with moon cakes on retailers' shelves and people around the site munching on them as snacks.
Expo-themed moon cakes are on sale in the Expo Garden. [Yong Kai/China Daily]
"Five series of the authorized Expo Bright Moon moon cakes have been on the shelf at our store since last week. We've already sold thousands of boxes. It is a surprisingly good situation," said Gu Jiqing, the manager of the Shanghai Expo Licensed Products flagship store. It is the only store that sells moon cakes from Chantilly, the sole Expo authorized moon cake supplier, located in Zone B in the Expo Garden.
These moon cakes were specially molded with patterns of the Expo mascot, Haibo, the China Pavilion and the Expo 2010 Shanghai logo.
Gu has introduced popular western ingredients like ham, chocolate, cheese, coffee, blueberry and cranberry as fillings to make the moon cakes more appealing to foreign visitors and staff in the Expo Garden.
"In one series, the patterns on two different boxes of moon cakes are of the China Pavilion. These are the biggest sellers in our store and hundreds of customers buy these everyday," said Gu.
The prices for the five series of moon cakes vary from 88 yuan to 398 yuan and a delivery service to locations in China is available. Expo greeting cards with a specially designed Mid-Autumn Festival stamp come with the purchase.
Ganso, famed for its ice cream moon cakes, is one of the official bakers of the Expo 2010 Shanghai. It has also launched its Expo limited edition moon cake in the Expo Garden.
"We've sold over 400 boxes of the Expo limited edition series of moon cakes at the three Ganso stores in the Expo Garden. The series is only available within the period of Expo 2010 Shanghai," said Zhong Yunxia, supervisor of Ganso Expo stores.
"We're very proud of being the official baker of the Expo, especially making moon cakes. We haven't added any extra flavors as we think the traditional fillings always remain the best," said Zhong.
For thousands of years, Chinese people have related the vicissitudes of life to changes of the moon as it waxes and wanes - joy and sorrow, parting and reunion. Because the full moon is round and symbolizes reunion, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the festival of reunion. All family members try to get together on this special day, have a big dinner and enjoy the glorious full moon either at home or a restaurant. This year they can share the experience at the Expo Garden.
As one of the best viewing points in the Expo Garden, the restaurants located on the top floor of the Cultural Center are getting ready for tourists who want to spend the Mid-Autumn Festival at the Expo Garden.
Shufu, a Sichuan restaurant on the top floor of the Cultural Center, will be one of the most popular eating places on Sept 22. The restaurant holds about 300 people and provides unmatched evening views of the Huangpu River and Zone A in the Expo Garden.
"Half of our 60 tables have been booked for dinner on Mid-Autumn Festival day. We have been receiving reservations and enquires since mid-July," said Gong Haibin, the manager of Shufu.
Gong said that most customers booked window seats so to enjoy the night views.
"We've also received telephone reservations from tourists from outside Shanghai who plan to visit the Expo Garden during the Mid-Autumn Festival with their families," Gong added.
Blissful Butterfly, the vegetarian restaurant on the same floor as Shufu, has been booked for a private Mid-Autumn Festival buffet dinner party on Sept 22.
About a month ago, the chef at 6SENS restaurant in the France Pavilion tried to make moon cakes the traditional Chinese way.
"Our chef made some classical flavors of moon cakes last month as he wanted to test a typical Chinese dish and try to improve on it, seeing it as a challenge," said Marion Bres, the spokesperson for 6SENS restaurant. "He will make some moon cakes again soon at Maison Pourcel, our new restaurant."
The Malaysia Pavilion has imported the country's Haewaytian brand moon cake.
"Golden Starlight, the basic element of lotus paste enriched with pandan leaf essence and finely granulated green bean paste has a smooth and fragrant taste, as the paste is wrapped in a layer of bean paste coated in a thin layer of flour," said Shen Xiuqing, the manager of the local importer of Haewaytian moon cakes.
The small kiosk near the Malaysia Pavilion selling Haewaytian moon cakes has been crowded with customers since it was set up earlier this month.
Shen said Haewaytian has a traditional type of moon cake called Shanghai Moon Cake, with a single egg yolk and a crispy texture.
"I came to the Malaysia Pavilion to buy moon cakes as I prefer ones with a lighter flavor," said Liu Yamei from Jiangsu province, who bought two boxes. "I've been to Malaysia a few times and have grown fond of their moon cakes."
Together with moon cake eating, there are other customs from different parts of the country associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival. These include burning incense, planting trees, lighting lanterns and dragon dances.
Nowadays, the custom of playing under the moon is not as popular as it used to be, but people still enjoy doing it. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, people gather under the full moon with family and celebrate their good fortune and extend best wishes to friends and relatives far from home.
"The moon of 16th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar is rounder than the 15th. Therefore, the best viewing period of the moon should be around 8 pm on Sept 23," said Zhao Junliang, the former head of the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory.
Zhao said the best places to observe the full moon are on top of pavilions where there are few lights and there are no tall buildings blocking the view.