Of Doomed Mooncakes and a New Noodle Bowl

Thursday, September 23, 2010 39 comments
Mighty Mooncake
Carpe Luna - Seize the Moon

Or should I say, seize the mooncake . . . This week, Mr. Noodle and I shared a single, solitary mooncake in celebration of the Mid Autumn Festival. The paltriness of our pastry was not for lack of trying: we had planned to feast on a quartet of these hefty traditional treats, carefully carried all the way back to Minnesota from Malaysia. But they were no match for the determined vigilance of the United States Customs and Border Protection agency, and its bureaucratic fears about avian flu.

Petronas Towers illuminated
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We had found the precious pastries quite by accident as we wandered around Kuala Lumpur in search of Imbi Market, which had been highly recommended by Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia for its outstanding fresh and prepared food offerings. Looking for directions, we stepped into Yee Hup, a bakery/store specializing in crispy, puffy biscuits with a sweet filling called hiong piah (or heong peng) and other traditional baked goods, including mooncakes. The salesperson was exceedingly welcoming and quite generous with her sample platter, which I couldn't resist. A few bites and some nibbles later, Mr. Noodle and I trundled out of the store with directions to our original destination, a large bag of hiong piah and a box of fist-sized mooncakes.

How I wish we'd eaten them as soon as possible! Little did we know that our choice of mooncake fillings - specifically, those with salted duck egg yolks in the center - would be crustulum non grata (unwelcome pastry) in the eyes of U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Upon our arrival at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, we declared the edible souvenirs from our Asia travels on the required customs form and were promptly directed to an agricultural inspection section. There, an agent briskly, though not unkindly, quizzed us on what foods we had packed, asking specifically about pork products. Nothing porcine, I assured her, just some Filipino cookies, candies and coffee, and a box of mooncakes. Uh-oh . . .

Is This Some Kind of a Sick Yolk?

One is the loneliest number...
In short order, our bags were sent through the x-ray machine, opened up for inspection (note to self: pack neatly for the return home, too), and our precious box of mooncakes extracted. Before we could protest, all but one of the pastries were unceremoniously dumped into a large garbage bin that undoubtedly contained even more of these confiscated confections. The reason for such a merciless seizure? Unless they have been mixed directly into the batter, egg yolks in mooncakes from countries with outbreaks of avian flu are considered 'agricultural hazards' and are therefore prohibited from entering the United States.

The irony is that on the same day we enjoyed the lone non-yolked mooncake survivor, a congressional panel on the recent nationwide outbreak of salmonella illnesses from tainted eggs heard abject apologies from one of the country's largest egg producers for his company's role in causing the health emergency, while the president of another agribusiness invoked his 5th Amendment right and refused to answer any questions. It would seem that there is a more immediate danger from egg yolks found closer to home than from baked pastry that has traveled halfway across the world.

But this is cold comfort - the mooncakes are now long gone and the experience of eating them lost. We would simply have to wait until the next opportunity to be in Asia during the Mid Autumn Festival, when mooncakes are as abundant as stars. And as our lucky stars would have it, that opportunity has come sooner than expected . . .

Lone survivor: White Lotus & Black Sesame Mooncake
From Minnesota Casserole to Philippine Palayok

'Internet Café Now Open'? Hmmm...
As you may have noticed, it's been a month since I last posted fresh material and published/replied to new comments on this blog. During that time, my husband and I were in the Philippines, where inconsistent Internet access made it difficult for me to keep up; instead, we spent most of our time visiting with family and traveling to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (more on those adventures in upcoming entries). But it wasn't all about leisure - Mr. Noodle has been pursuing job opportunities in Asia and much to our delight, he received an offer of employment just days before our return to Minnesota.

My dear friends, I am pleased to announce that the Noodles are moving to a new bowl - Manila, Philippines! We are so thrilled about this fresh chapter in our story. Although I was born in metro Manila, I have spent most of my life in North America, so life in the Philippines will be as new and unfamiliar to me as it will be for my Midwestern husband. But we look forward to meeting the challenge together with excitement and enthusiasm.

There is little time for relaxed transition, however, as our relocation will take place in less than 6 weeks. As a result, I may not be posting as often as I'd like while my energies are focused on packing up our belongings and getting ready for our move. I hope to put up some entries that are already in the pipeline, although they may not be as detailed (read: long-winded) as my usual posts, as well as to share some details about my new old home.

As I bring Tangled Noodle back to my birthplace, please join me in a rediscovery of my cultural heritage, a deeper exploration of a beloved, vibrant cuisine and the hope of creativity inspired by new and delicious adventures!

Here's a sneak preview . . .

While Makati City, Metro Manila shimmers beneath the clouds . . .
. . .  El Nido, Palawan shines under blue skies.

39 comments:

  • Anh said...

    Even with the salted yolks around here, the store bought mooncakes are of uninspiring quality! I'm not a fan of the yolks actually :)

    And welcome to the Phillipnes. U r a lot closer to me now, yes?

  • Caroline said...

    OMG, I didn't expect this when you hinted earlier about big things brewing. I'm so excited for you, and jealous, too! :P
    Nevermind about the mooncakes, six weeks from now you'll just be a skip away from the same bakery. :)

  • Liren said...

    Congratulations!!! At first, I thought the big surprise was perhaps a little cup of noodles percolating, but wow, this is exciting news! I'm so very thrilled for you both - we have often talked of trying the "expat" life - but lack the courage right now. How thrilling for you both, and I can't wait to live vicariously through you as you rediscover our cultural heritage! Good luck!

  • Leela said...

    You just got back after a long absence and you're going away again in less than 6 weeks! Whoa.

    Congrats on the move. I hope adjusting to living in Manila will be quick and smooth. I so look forward to Tangle Noodle Live from Manila. :)

  • Conor @ Hold the Beef said...

    Oh, I SO need to use the phrase crustulum non grata in the future. Given the enthusiasm of Australian customs, I probably won't have to wait too long for an opportunity!

    How exciting about the move! All the best with the preparations, and wishing you a safe and painless move :)

  • Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

    Tracey I am SOOOOOOOO excited for you! I cannot wait to read about your adventures in Manila - how long will you be there?? Take your time, get settled and you know we will be waiting here when you are ready to post. Cheers to an exciting new chapter in the Noodles' life!!!

  • Daily Spud said...

    Oh wow, what news! Even though you'll still only be a click away, I wonder now about our eventual meeting (which has to happen someday, this you know!). Of course, I've always wanted to visit the Philippines - I'll just have even more reason to do so now :)

  • onlinepastrychef said...

    I second what DS said! Hooray for your move, but poor me that we won't be in the same country anymore. I don't suppose I could talk you into a wee trip to NC before you go? No, I thought not. ;) Best of luck in your new bowl, Noodles!

  • Mhel said...

    Welcome to Manila!! Hooray!! Congratulations and good luck as well! Arent you missing Filipino food? as you know, when the -ber months arrives, its Christmas time in the Philippines. So you'll be seeing a lot of puto-bumbong and bibingka stands all over...

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thank you all for the warm well-wishes on our move! I apologize for not responding individually to each of your comments as I normally (try to) do, but I truly appreciate your taking the time to leave such kind words. Right now, I'm knee deep in cardboard boxes, scratching my head and wondering how in the world I managed to accumulate so much junk!

    I promise that I'll keep up with this blog once we've relocated - I can't wait to see in what direction it will go. Thanks so much for all your support and hope you'll join me virtually in my new home!

  • Jenn said...

    WOW!!! That's exciting news. I'm jealous (...in a good way) I would do almost anything to be able to live back home in Manila. Even if it's for a few months. :) I hope the transition goes well for you and Mr. Noodle. Please do keep up posted as well.

  • Jeanne said...

    The mooncakes are so beautiful - how sad that they got trashed. Congratulations on your upcoming move, I can't wait to hear about your adventures in Manila!

  • Midge said...

    It's depressing how such standards deprive people of the richness of other cultures - and wasting perfectly good, perfectly SAFE food in their paranoia! It's so wrong!

    But I'm glad you enjoyed your trip to the Philippines. :)

  • zerrin said...

    So happy to hear that you will move back to home, fantastic! And the story at the airport about mooncakes (egg yolk) is very interesting. How do they allow people with egg yolk in their stomach to enter the country then? I guess such people carry the same risk.
    Wish you luck in your new place!

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    My first job out of college was at an Asian American Advertising firm - basically we tailored national ads for the Asian market...quite large in the SF area. Most of my co-workers were Chinese and we worked pretty close to Chinatown which meant lunchtime was an experience and education. At lunar new year we sent out mooncakes to all of our clients and contacts...the lotus paste kind. I did try the one with the yolk, though I think I remember preferring the lotus paste.

    Good luck with the move! OysterCulture revealed how spoiled Mr Noodle has been by your family when I met with her last week!

  • Joie de vivre said...

    I love your long-winded (I mean detailed :) posts! I'm so excited for your new life adventure. It will certainly be an adventure for both of you! I can't wait to hear everything, how your move goes, your new place, etc. Congratulations on the new job Mr. Noodle! I'm sorry about your moon cake, will you be able to get them in the Phillipines next year?

  • The Diva on a Diet said...

    Oh my, I really have been out of the loop! What BIG news for the Noodles! Congratulations to you both and much love and best wishes on your impending move. Safe travels, good luck settling in and I can't wait to share this exciting journey with you here on the blog.

    Congrats again and good luck!!!

    xoxoxoxo
    Diva

  • Lori said...

    I can't believe I only just now am catching up on your blog!! I almost jumped out of my chair when I read the news. I am so excited for you! And, selfishly, for me in hopes you post all about the food there!

    Oh and I had all kinds of great things to say about your mooncakes and now I'm just too excited for you to type it. Congrats!

  • Dee said...

    How exciting for you!! I also have to tell you a friend of mine used to always describe mooncakes for me however I never saw what they looked like. That truly is a work of art. How beautiful! Keep us all posted on your exciting adventures.

  • sophia said...

    OH NO!!! Not mooncakes!! Those are precious, and so expensive, too. I wonder if those officials went back to munch on them when you were gone...

  • Steph said...

    Tracey, It's taken me a while but I wanted to wish you congratulations on the move! I hope that the adjustment has been going well. My dad is moving back to the PI in April, so I plan on visiting in the next year or so. It would be great to connect there!

  • Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

    I finally tracked this post down to be sure I understood you correctly when you said it was beginning to be hot in Manila.I am so ashamed I've been away so long that I didn't know you had moved to Manila. How exciting for you and your husband.
    Sam

 

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