Making Mooncakes on the Grand Canal

When I say “Grand Canal”, what image does that conjure for you? The main waterway of Venice, with the vaporetto speeding along next to the slow amble of gondolas? Unfortunately, that Grand Canal is not nearly as grand as the one in China.

The Grand Canal runs from Beijing all the way to Tangqi, about a half an hour north of Hangzhou. Back in ye olden days it was essential for transporting the abundance of the southern region (fish, rice, silk, etc) to the north, where the capital was (sometimes) (unless the Mongols had gotten frisky).

The longest bridge over the Grand Canal

While this bridge is not the original bridge, it is still over 400 years old, and the longest bridge to span the canal. So naturally, it is prodigiously crowded with tourists anytime there is a day off in China.

Bank holidays in China are quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. Sure, in the US we all know there will be traffic on a three-day-weekend, but for that reason people generally seem to spread out in their choice of holiday destinations, or just stay at home to enjoy the calm of everyone else leaving.

But there is no such thing as calm in China. If the weather is passable and people have time off, any remotely nice place will be completely packed, like Disneyland-on-a-Saturday-in-June packed, like Eiffel-Tower-on-a-warm-summer-day packed.

Very crowded

We wove our way through the crowded streets and made our way to our mooncake class, run by a local master whose family has lived in Tangqi for generations. (He actually had old photos from the 1920s, showing his grandfather who was one of the first Western-trained doctors in the area.)

The mooncake master

We learned the traditional way of making mooncakes, with hand-carved wooden molds. Our teacher actually has a large collection of molds which he’s collecting as hand-made ones become less popular and pushed out by machine-made molds, or simply machine-made cakes altogether.

A sample of the molds we used
The symbol for marriage. These mooncakes were made with basic rice flour, colored with either pumpkin or pumpkin leaves.

As the mooncakes steamed, we looked around at the historic photos and collection of hundreds of molds from all over China. Small mooncakes are common here in southern China, while larger designs were traditionally from the north.

A collection of molds. The top two have the symbol for longevity.
Vibrant mooncakes, freshly steamed

So definitely a different experience from simply eating some KFC moon cakes and looking at the moon. If you’re going to be in the Hangzhou area and you’d like to find unique cultural experiences like this, check out Trendy Adventurer!

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