The Story of the Jade Rabbit (Yu Tu)

Long ago, three bodhisattvas decided to test the character of the animals. They chose the fox, the monkey and the rabbit for their first test. The bodhisattvas disguised themselves as starving beggars, and each asked the fox, the monkey and the rabbit for food. The fox immediately ran off, stole a farmer’s chicken, and presented it to the first beggar. The immortal refused it, saying it was stolen and a poor offering. The monkey scampered into the trees, and came back with two bunches of bananas. The second bodhisattva also refused the offering, because the monkey only did what the beggar himself could do. The poor rabbit, who only ate grass and leaves, knew he had nothing to offer. So, he asked the third immortal to make a cook fire. Once the fire was ready, he threw himself into the flames, saying the men could eat his flesh. But the rabbit was unharmed by the fire. The immortals were so impressed by the rabbit’s generosity, that they let him live forever in the Moon Palace. They honored him further by placing his likeness on the Moon for all the world to see. If you look carefully at the full moon, ...

In praise of mooncakes and instant noodles

JISHOU, HUNAN — Today (Sept. 14 here) is Mid Autumn Moon Day, a major occasion in East Asia for family and friends to gather and exchange gifts … Like mooncakes. These are a traditional gift, painstakingly produced by a few stalwart home cooks and many commercial bakeries. Most Chinese nowadays buy mooncakes in the grocery; the Jun Hua here has an entire aisle devoted to them, in elaborate packaging, or you can buy them individually in the bakery department. When Americans think of cake, we imagine cloyingly sweet, fluffy items like layer cakes, or hefty, cholesterol-laden things like pound cake. Mooncakes are an entirely different kind of confection. For one thing, traditionally they are not very sweet. They consist of a flour-based outer covering containing a wide variety of fillings, usually some kind of bean paste. Sometimes the yolk of a duck egg is in the middle of the bean paste filling, to represent the moon. Newer versions are sweeter, I suppose to appeal to the younger set. Traditional mooncakes are anything but fluffy. In texture, the closest Western equivalent would a fruit cake (without the fruit and nuts). They are kind of chewy, but pleasantly so, and actually pretty ...
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