Flaky Mooncake & Red Dowry in Ninghai County


Flaky Mooncake & Red Dowry in Ninghai County

Flaky Mooncake & Red Dowry in Ninghai County

Sara, a 19-year-old Iranian girl, has been living in the city for 17 years. She now studies neuroscience in Simon Fraser University, a school in Vancouver, Canada.


Symbolizing the moon, mooncake is a traditional Chinese festive bakery product with a flaky crust and crumbly yumminess. The modern Mid-Autumn Festival still embraces the traditions of lunar appreciation, poetry composing and mooncake tasting to celebrate family union.


Handmade mooncakes in Ningbo are crispy and tasty, especially the ones from Ninghai county. With Mid-Autumn Festival approaching, the streets around Ninghai are already infused with the mouth-watering aroma of mooncakes.


Sara came to Ningbo from Iran with her parents at age 2 and grew up as a local girl here. She now studies neuroscience in Simon Fraser University, a school in Vancouver, Canada.


In late July, Sara joined us on a drive to Ninghai for the mooncake exploration.


As we reached our destination in Yuelong subdistrict, Ninghai County, Sara traced the overflowing fragrance of pastries and stopped at a roadside mooncake deli – the branch store of Caohu Food Company. “Ni Hao!” Sara stepped into the store and greeted the pastry chef in Ningbo dialect, “Can you teach me how to make mooncakes?” Busily kneading the dough, the chef looked up and replied with delight: “Sure!”


Ms Xiang, the chef, has been in the business for 40 years. For her, making Mooncake by hand is “easy peasy, lemon sqeezy”. Following Xiang’s instructions, Sara made her own attempt: Combine flour with lard, knead it, form the dough. Press it flat, fold it, roll it, then repeat the three steps until the multi-layer thin crust is ready. Add a large ball of paste fillings in the center of the crust. And close all the sides until it’s sealed tight and no filling is visible.


Bake the mooncake for 20 minutes. The steaming hot pastries are done!


Cool the pastries for a while. Then break the cake in half and enjoy the rich, penetrating aroma. Inside, large walnut kernels are clearly visible, and the salted duck egg yolk enriches the filling. Outside, the layered thin crust is flaky and tasty. At first bite, Sara could not help whooping with excitement: “Delicious!”


Sara soon became a fan of the Ninghai mooncake. Learning that it’s her first time in Ninghai, Xiang invited Sara to visit a site of the national intangible cultural heritage ——the Ten-Mile Red Dowry. The Red Dowry refers to the ancient luxurious wedding customs in Ninghai. When the daughter got married, her parents would offer a large dowry as their blessing towards the bride. The dowry-carrying team could last several miles, namely “Ten-Mile Red Dowry”.


The rain had just stopped, leaving the sky crystal clear and a loom of mountain in sight. Down the cobblestone path, Sara capered across the red arch bridge. And here we are at the Oriental Art Museum!


The exhibition hall displays all sorts of dowry, including red furniture painted with golden and cyan lacquer, exquisite Chinese wooden wardrobes as well as dressing tables, and an eye-catching red bridal sedan chair. In ancient eastern Zhejiang, the bridal sedan chair is the traditional vehicle for brides when they get married. Sara was hyped up with amazement and took a seat on the sedan chair, her face beaming with delight.


“So many Rewards!” Full of jollity, we embarked on the way back home.


Ningbo in the eyes of Sara

“I have been living here for 17 years, and I have found that Ningbo is a peaceful city with an implicit ethos and a sophisticated civilization. The longer you stay here, the more good things with this city you will unveil.”


By Xie Zhaoyan, Tang Jiaqi (intern) Photo by Yang Hui Translator: Pan Wenjie