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August 13, 2009

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The moon cakes have landed

LOW fat, low sugar, high GI, low GI, like the Western Easter egg, moon cakes seem to pop up earlier every year and with a limitless range of weird and wonderful gimmicks to set them apart from the myriad of competitors.

The Hilton Shanghai got in early and has married moon cakes and a Sichuan Province inspired menu at their Sichuan Court restaurant to showcase a range of moon cakes.

The cakes are traditionally given as a gift to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on October 3. Traditionally the festival is celebrated when the moon is at its brightest. The cakes are seen as an indispensable part of the festival and an auspicious symbol of wholeness and harmony.

For this food scribe, moon cakes have always had their own unique laws of nature. The ones that have been received and promptly passed on in that dizzying merry go-round of giving eventually find their way back to their original owner.

While the heavy dense textures of the cakes take some getting used to for Western palates, the Hilton's executive chef Emmanuel Souliere has applied his considerable culinary skills to creating a menu inspired by the hotel's range of moon cakes.

Distinct flavors

Getting a savory dish out of red bean, vanilla, rose and egg is enough to test the grey matter of any chef. But Souliere has created a playful six-course meal that is Sichuan inspired but accessible to even this less than enthusiastic moon cake eater.

Each of the dishes has a small slice of moon cake which the chef advises to eat first and then see how the distinct flavors have been married in the dish he has created.

"Over my time in Shanghai I have begun to understand what is a good moon cake and what is a bad moon cake," the French chef says.

"I wanted to highlight the combination of flavors and there are so many interesting possibilities. I didn't go too far because you have to make sure your menu is balanced."

The six-course menu starts with a Chinese ham and nuts moon cake which inspired Souliere to create a dish using 36-month aged air dried ham with stir-fried vegetables, green asparagus and pickled vegetables.

"We tried to provide a menu that has a Sichuan influence but with Western techniques and thinking," he says.

In a good example of this fusion Souliere has also created a dish using pan fried foie gras with red bean and vanilla from France and also a dash of fiery Sichuan spices.

Sichuan Court's Mid-Autumn Festival menu runs all September until the end of the festival and costs 350 yuan (US$51) per person plus a 15-percent surcharge (minimum two people). The Hilton's moon cakes cost between 168 yuan and 288 yuan per box.


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