Fuzhou Mooncakes in Ayer Tawar

The old-fashioned paper package is topped with a festive red brand flyer, tightly knotted with a thin string. Untie the string, remove the flyer, unwrap the paper package to reveal 12 small, round savoury mooncakes. Grab a piece and break apart layers of flaky crust, the filling is packed with umami, mildly oniony, with a hint of sweetness, yielding a springy texture. In Ayer Tawar, a small town in Perak where most of the population originated from FuZhou, savoury mooncakes are a Mid-Autumn Festival staple, perfect for gifting or own consumption, selling out fast when the season draws near.

The moon is exceptionally bright in mid-autumn, signifying a bountiful harvest in ancient agrarian societies, hence people pay homage to the moon, and mooncakes were originally an offering for the moon deity. Since the Yuan and Ming dynasties, the custom of admiring the beauty of the full moon while indulging in mooncakes, as well as gifting mooncakes, gained popularity and imbued mooncakes with cultural significance. To the FuZhounese pioneers of Ayer Tawar, traditional festivals sustain their earnest longings for their hometown. Back when resources were scarce, mooncakes were a precious delicacy, sharing among family members symbolizes unity and togetherness.

Most commonly seen are Cantonese-style mooncakes with soft glossy crust and sweet dense fillings. However, savoury mooncakes are SuZhou-style with flaky crust and savoury fillings, baked in a traditional grill oven. The savoury filling is made using pork containing both fat and lean portions, which is chopped by hand to ensure a supple texture instead of a sticky mince. Seasoned with salt, pepper, five spices, peanuts, sesame seeds, and green onions, it imparts a rich aroma after stir-frying. Lard is incorporated into the pastry dough to form a layered flaky crust, then manually insert the filling. The wrapped mooncakes are transferred onto a charcoal grill pan and covered with a charcoal-fired lid, baked on both sides for about 10 minutes until well done. 

Apart from savoury mooncakes, lard shortbread cookies are also a festive treat in Ayer Tawar. Made using steamed flour combined with castor sugar, eggs and lard to form a crumbly dough, pressed into wooden moulds, knocked to dislodge the pressed cookies, which are then neatly arranged onto trays to be oven-baked. Lard shortbread cookies can be eaten on its own, or made into a drink by adding hot water.

Fried glutinous rice sticks is a must-have during Mid-Autumn Festival family and friends gatherings. It is nicknamed “Mice Biscuits” due to its resemblance to newborn mice. Cute, crispy, and highly enjoyable, its production process is in fact cumbersome and time-consuming, with various factors affecting the success rate. The dough is made of glutinous rice flour, water, and yeast. After fermentation, the dough is rolled out and manually cut into inch-long strips, which are deep-fried until puffed up and golden in colour, then set aside and let cool. The fried glutinous rice sticks are first coated in a boiling maltose and sugar syrup, immediately followed by a layer of steamed flour. Excess flour is sifted off and it is ready.

Siew Hua Biscuits is among the few bakeries still producing traditional Chinese pastries in Ayer Tawar. Mid-Autumn Festival goodies such as savoury mooncakes, lard shortbread cookies, and fried glutinous rice sticks are only produced and sold in the month preceding the festival. Due to all items being freshly made with natural ingredients and no preservatives added, the shelf life is quite short, therefore orders need to be placed in advance, be it local pickup or interstate delivery. The second generation owner, 71-year-old Yak Sing King, said that he has retired and his son Yak Chou Liong is now in charge, yet he still toils away in the kitchen. The family members and a couple of workers start production from the wee hours till around 10P.M.

Gifting savoury mooncakes, lard shortbread cookies, and fried glutinous rice sticks together, the bulging paper package is full of delicious treats and sincere wishes from the giver.

Nowadays, these traditional foods do not conform to mainstream healthy eating habits, however they retain Fuzhou folk customs and etiquette, and reflect the cultural significance of traditional festivals.

有你 UNI Production
Producer : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Michael Lerk
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Michael Lerk
Copywriter : Pua Hui Wen


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