September 5 through 8, Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel celebrates one of China’s most important festivals that dates back centuries: the Mid-Autumn Festival. The festival honors the Goddess of the Moon and celebrates the fall harvest. This is family and friends’ reunion time for people in China. Along with their loved ones, guests admire the full moon, the biggest and brightest of the year, and enjoy traditional food including the festival-inspired mooncakes. Ancient texts describe round pastries similar to mooncakes as far back as the Tang dynasty (619-907.) So many legends surround them, their true origin is impossible to discern.
For people in Chicago who wish to experience the beauty and the bounty of another culture – or reconnect with their roots – the Peninsula will light the lanterns and decorate the lobby and its Shanghai Terrace, four floors above Michigan Avenue, with flowers and dragons. Chef de Cuisine Ivan Yuen will create the mooncakes which are flakey pastry shells holding light egg custard. Under his supervision, the culinary team will offer a collection of authentic din sum inspired by the holiday and a five-course dinner featuring Peking duck, Maine lobster, and dry aged beef. For a briefer fling with the full moon, guests are invited to visit the lobby for “Aftermoon Tea” featuring mooncakes, festival-inspired petits-fours, signature sandwiches, and Chinese tea. Don’t forget to pat one of the guardian lions at the hotel’s entrance to ensure clear skies and a harvest of happy memories.
If you are thinking about making mooncakes yourself, preparation time is an hour and the recipe calls for ingredients that are not in your pantry and are not easily borrowed from neighbors unless you live next door to Chef Yuen. This is one of those festivals that could bring the most committed DIY-ers to their knees. Cheers to the Peninsula for giving Chicago another stress-free festival!
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