Long, long ago and far, far away, there was a moon goddess named Chang Er who lived a life of loneliness on the pale round face of the moon.
That’s how my mother always started the story every fall on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival as we sat in a circle in the yard, craned our neck upward and admired the moon.
You see, my mother would say, the goddess floated to the moon after swallowing a pill that promised everlasting life, a pill she stole from her husband, Houyi. Houyi was an archer who valiantly saved mankind by shooting down multiple suns that were scorching the earth. He became such a tyrant that Chang Er sacrificed herself to keep him from ruling forever.
While my mother told that centuries-old Chinese folk tale, we nibbled pieces of mooncake she had cut into triangular slivers. Don’t eat too much, she always cautioned, they’re rich.
Were they ever. Rich, heavy, dry. And, too sweet. The bean paste filling stuck to the roof of my mouth and, as a middle child, I never got my share of the yolk center that resembled the moon.
Like many Chinese holidays, the Mid-Autumn Festival is all about family and reunion, and it’s probably second in importance only to the Chinese New Year It’s a holiday that marks the fall equinox when the moon is at its fullest and roundest on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar.
This year, it’s today, Sept. 12.
All around the world, Chinese (and others from a few Asian cultures) will be celebrating the holiday with family meals – and with mooncakes. If they’re in China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong, they could be telling the folk tale of lost love while savoring Häagen-Dazs mooncakes.
Since they were first introduced in 1997 in China, this seasonal item has become a must-have, and it’s easy to see why. Häagen-Dazs mooncakes resemble traditional mooncakes in every way – except they taste stratospherically better!
Instead of an outer thin dough or flaky crust, Häagen-Dazs mooncakes are often coated with chocolate. The filling of seeds or red bean paste is replaced with Häagen-Dazs ice cream, which never sticks in the mouth for long. Finally, the golden moon in the middle is made of Häagen-Dazs mango sorbet.
Wrapped in pretty boxes with glittery bows, Häagen-Dazs mooncakes have become a highly sought-after gift item that properly speaks to the value of the relationship between the giver and the recipient.
For the last 14 years, sales of Häagen-Dazs mooncakes have grown by 25 percent annually. In Shanghai alone, one in every five families consumes one box of Häagen-Dazs mooncakes. And the lines to pick up the mooncakes – all hand packed in dry ice – stretch around the block.
That’s not my memory of traditional mooncakes that I grew up with. In fact, we always had leftovers after the holiday was long past, boxes of the hockey puck-sized cakes hardening as weeks go by. For sure, mooncakes were must-haves, but only for symbolic reasons.
For me, they represented the big harvest moon above our heads, a moon that imprisoned Chang Er to a life of loneliness, accompanied only by the Jade Rabbit. I always thought of the tale as a love story.
And, Häagen-Dazs is all about love, romance and togetherness.
Maybe there will be a happy ending after all.