Issue 17.5: October/November 2014

The Sweet Side of the Moon

Story by Kamala Kirk
Photo by James Anshutz

Westerners see a man in the moon, but for the Chinese it’s a woman. Chang’e, the moon goddess of immortality, is a central figure in the tales told during the Moon Festival. Also called the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Moon Festival celebrates the summer harvest and falls on the full moon of the eighth month. It’s also the season for moon cake — a round, elaborately decorated pastry filled with nuts, fruit, eggs and sugar, usually cut into wedges and served with tea. The cake resembles the full moon and symbolizes families reuniting, health and prosperity. But like fruitcakes at Christmas, moon cakes are typically baked more for tradition than taste. Not so for the Fangs, whose moon cakes are, well, celestial.

Wesley and Mei Fang are the husband-and-wife owners of Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery in Chinatown, which since it opened in 2008 has earned a reputation for O‘ahu’s most interesting moon cakes. They make your standard moon cake, of course, but they also offer Japanese-inspired mochi moon cakes filled with black sugar, yellow bean, lotus seed, duck egg, even winter melon—specialty items available only at Sing Cheong. Their traditional cakes are available year-round; the mochi varieties are available only during the festival season or by special order.

The Fangs make everything, from dough to filling, fresh in the bakery. The water-lard-flour dough is rolled out to form a layered crust, brushed with an egg wash for a browning effect and then filled before pulling up the edges and sealing. The round is then pressed into wooden molds with ornately carved designs that emboss the cake once it’s baked: Chinese characters for “harmony” and “longevity,” flowers or depictions of Chang’e.

To the Fangs, moon cakes are more than just a treat. “The moon cake is for family, and not just my family but all families,” Mei says. “The tradition is about reuniting with loved ones and eating good food. Just like Americans have Thanksgiving with turkey, we have the Moon Festival and moon cakes.”