(holiday) mid-autumn festival

This Sunday is the Mid-Autumn Festival (a.k.a. Moon Festival) — which means it’s time for moon cake!

You also should know by now that Chinese festivals come equipped with legends to explain the customs surrounding the festival. So, the story behind the Moon Festival is rather tragic and romantic (much like Double Seven “Chinese Valentine’s Day”), which I learned all about via this Chinese tourism website.

The Moon Festival occurs on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, which this year falls on 30 September. It takes its name from the fact that it is always celebrated during the time of year that the moon is at its roundest and fullest. Families gather to eat together and share well wishes with each other and the members that are far away.

The Story

Rumor has it that waaay back in the day, the planet was insufferably hot due to Earth’s having 10(!!!) suns. Naturally, circumstances called for a hero — a man worthy of myth — and a guy named Hou Yi stepped up and shot down nine of the 10 suns — huzzah!

Of course, this attracted admirers from far and wide to learn from him and acquire those mad “skillz.”

Hou Yi then also met a lovely woman named Chang E who would become his wife. They lived very happily, and things were good until one day when Hou Yi decided to step out to meet a friend. . . .

It seems nothing good ever comes from stories that involve Wangmu, the queen of the heavens (remember what she did to her daughter?). So Hou Yi runs into the Goddess of Heaven, who’s all, “Check out this elixir I’ve got for you. This is what those fools over on Mount Olympus could’ve used instead of sending that Hercules guy after all those crazy tasks — drink it, and you’ll become immortal! And you’ll be sent up to my turf.”

So, you know that whenever there’s a hero, there’s always a Judas. A guy who had come from afar to learn shooting “skillz” from Hou Yi back in the day, Peng Meng, just so happened to see what his old mentor did next.

Because he loved his wife Chang E so much, he went home with the elixir and told her, “Honey, the Goddess of Heaven gave me this herself. It’ll send whoever drinks it up to heaven and make ’em immortal. I’ll let you hold on to it for safekeeping.”

Three fateful days later, Hou Yi went out for a hunt, and Peng Meng broke in to their house, where the wife was. “Yo Chang!” he barked. “You give me that elixir!”

Knowing she was no match for his strength, she was forced to drink the elixir herself to keep it away from the brute.

As soon as she downed it, she shot straight through the window and straight for the heavens — but her love for her hubby drew her to the closest heavenly body to Earth, the moon.

“CHANG E!!!!” Hou Yi cried to the sky, when he realized what had transpired.

To his amazement, he saw a figure that looked just like his wife appear from the moon.

He then took all the food he knew she liked and brought it to an altar to offer as a sacrifice to her. To offer him emotional consolation and support, neighbors lit incense and made food to commemorate his kind and lovely wife, year after year.

The Food

So, of course the most iconic culinary tribute to the Moon Festival is the moon cake. From the aforementioned travel site, they are described like this:

The moon cake is a kind of cookie with various fillings and on the surface are printed different artistic patterns depicting the story of Chang E flying to the moon. People treated this kind of food as one of the sacrificial offerings to the moon in the old days. Today, it has become an indispensable food while appreciating the bright moon for every family. Moon cakes come in various flavors which change according to the region but common fillings are nuts, sugar, sesame, ham and egg yolk. Travel China Guide

The moon cake is also round, naturally, which represents the reunion of a family, but nowadays, moon cake is also gifted between friends and family alike to wish each other a long and happy life. Some customs include paying respect to the moon itself or doing dragon dances.

Now, I asked my mother if we ever had moon cake here for the day of the festival, and she said no — but she’ll certainly change her mind if enough of you ask her for it!

(Incidentally, you can also make it yourself with this recipe I found.)

What do you think? Would you like to preorder some moon cake for Sunday? If so, drop me a comment here, on Facebook, or give us a call at 773/728.5778 and let us know.

Have a delicious day!

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(special event) divas & dishes

It’s that time of month . . . I’m doing another fun and fabulous style session to help you accessorize your wardrobe, find presents for birthdays or the upcoming holidays, and show you how to earn ridiculous amounts of free jewelry — don’t forget to RSVP if you’d like to sample some of our Taiwanese “small eats”!

(guest post) a sister’s say on labor day

As promised, here is the article my sister Moose (“Stephanie”) wrote on our Labor Day in Chinatown for her fashion blog, which you can access at The Naked Canvas.

Labor Day is a holiday that is typically associated with barbecues, the beach, shopping, and just downright relaxing.  So where did I go to celebrate this ’murican day off?  Chinatown, of course 😛 I joined my family on a trip to this Chicago neighborhood to do a bit of shopping (both grocery and window), strolling, and to escape the humidity with a nice, refreshing bubble tea.

I spent a lot of time in Chinatown as a child, tagging along with my mom to buy bits and bobs from the grocery stores, stocking up on my favorite gummy candies and baked goodies, getting haircuts, grabbing bites to eat, attending festivals, etc.  As I got older, I made fewer and fewer trips to this neighborhood, so this was a quaint, nostalgic trip back.

My usual go-to oufit for hot, sticky days tends to revolve around tank tops and high-waisted shorts with minimal accessories (In this case, “minimal” means a huge gold elephant grazing my declate . . .) I wear this particular tank top way too often.  So often that I’m surprised it hasn’t unraveled into one long strand of thread by now.  I’ve worn this same tank and short combination in a previous post (here) during my trip to Minneapolis, but I styled it with different accessories.

Hopefully the summer heat will fizzle in the month to come, and we can embrace the fall weather (and fashion!).  How did you spend your Labor Day?

labor day shenanigans, our style

From Hello Kitty’s Facebook page —

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Hope everyone had a terrific Labor Day! Just wanted to share what my family did yesterday on our day off — as many of you know, Mondays are our family’s only day off — speaking of which . . . my sister found this the other day on Facebook from one of her old server friends at (gasp!) another restaurant: Image

(No idea why it is a picture of a picture, but never mind.)

I digress. Anyway, my boyfriend Anthony had been asking my mom to teach him how to prepare live fish (i.e., fresh-picked while still alive) for ages, so we finally figured that Labor Day would be the perfect opportunity for her to take him “fishing” at Chinatown (her preferred spot for live fish) and teach him her kitchen skillz at home. (We have a townhouse in the city near the restaurant, but since the ’rents spend most of their time there at Mei Shung, the kitchen at the townhouse isn’t fully equipped for cooking.)

To our surprise, my sister opted to join us for the outing, which she is currently writing for on her own blog, The Naked Canvas. (I will re-post her article on Thursday.)

When we got to Chinatown, we of course got distracted by shiny things — gift shops, kitchen wares, and wound up shopping around for a good hour or so before we even managed to pick out our fish.

ImageMoose and I started a mini-collection of kitty mugs and cups. Not too sure of the significance of cats in Chinese culture, but they’re fairly prevalent — turns out, though, that that golden cat with the moving arm? The one you see in tons of Chinese restaurants? It’s actually Japanese, called the Maneki-neko. I found this photo on Google images —

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. . . which is why we don’t have one in our restaurant!

But I do have to confess one guilty pleasure: Hello Kitty! She’s Japanese, too, but too cute for us to ignore. More on this later.

For some reason, the first two supermarkets that carry live fish were out of the fish my mom prefers (big-mouth bass), but third time was the charm — managed to get hold of two medium-sized fishies, at my request, because I love live fish so much I can have an entire one on my own.

At home, Anthony promptly put on my black Cucina Italiana apron (I know, it’s blasphemous — but the only food I know how to make is Italian from all my time in the country ;)) and vigorously took notes of my mom’s instruction.

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The result? DELICIOUSNESS. If you’re curious, this is one of the savory delights off our upcoming Super Secret Authentic Taiwanese menu that you can order. My mom will most likely not be the one personally cooking it for you, but I assure you it is just as tasty. (And, by the way, you can order it even before we release the Super Secret Menu! Just make sure you give her ample time to go buy your fish.)

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Moose also randomly asked her to teach her how to make miso soup, so my kitchen-goddess mom also decided to whip up some spicy sushi (maki).

. . . So this is extremely clear, Mei Shung is NOT an Asian fusion restaurant — it is strictly Mandarin and Taiwanese cuisine. This means no Pad Thai, no sushi, no sake.

But I can’t say the same for what goes on under our roof. 😉

A glimpse of the feast that ensued:

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And just for fun, since we love to give things away, and since we apparently have such an affinity for Japanese fare —

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This Hello Kitty coffee tumbler (double-porcelain walled) is up for grabs! One lucky winner of our newest contest will win this eco-friendly alternative to to-go cups, detailed here:

Hello New Dish Contest

Come in to Mei Shung in the month of September (or get delivery), order something you have never tried before off our menu (perhaps off our upcoming Super Secret Authentic Taiwanese menu!), and write us a short review covering:

-what you ordered & what was in it

-comparison to what you normally order

-how you liked it

We have TONS of stuff to choose from, even if you’re not adventurous enough to try something you can’t pronounce. 😉

Entries will be posted to our Facebook page as well as the blog for a voting contest — the review with the most “likes” will win the Hello Kitty tumbler! (While you’re at it, be sure to “like” the page, too, for our ongoing Facebook Likes Us contest.)

Contest ends Sunday, 30 September at 11.59pm. (This gives you about two hours after we close!)

I’ve been diligently working to convince my parents to go green with the restaurant, but alas, old habits die hard (especially for old-school immigrants from Taiwan). So . . . instead, I can ensure giveaways will be environmentally friendly, when possible.

Good luck!

Stay tuned for my sister’s guest post on Thursday!