I’ve ate this a few times in Hong Kong, it’s called piggy mooncake biscuit 豬仔餅, I didn’t exactly know its relationship with the lunar festival except it appeared around the same time of moon festival, I just read that before making moon cake, they use this biscuits to test the skin. Do you know why they are shaped as pigs and why they are in basket?
I don’t exactly know why they are pig-shaped - I’d always assumed they were substitutes for actual whole roasted pigs originally used as offerings on our prayer altars. Let me ask the food historians in my group of friends here.
It’s a question I’ve wandered, logically if it’s in pig-shaped, I was expecting it to be savoury or with minced pork inside.
I’ve never been crazy over mooncakes but give/receive them as gifts each year. I just buy them in the gift box from United Noodle in Minneapolis.
Actually, the use of pig-shaped baked goods is to omit the use of meats/pork altogether and make the offerings vegetarian.
Majority of the Chinese in Singapore, Malacca and Penang are Hokkiens/Fujianese, so we have the traditional worship of the Jade Emperor on the eve of the 8th Day of the First Lunar Month (Chinese New Year Festival). Ordinarily, we’ll include a whole roast pig - as seen on my family’s “Pai Thnee Kong” altar during last year’s Chinese New Year (2020). Every Hokkien family will have this altar which will be brought out from storage and used once a year, and set up in front of a house’s front door. Prayer offerings will be carefully arranged since each and every item carry its own significance.
But this year, my mother decided that we’d go vegetarian and use a pig-shaped bread instead of an actual roast pig. You can see the pig-shaped bread on our family altar’s offerings to the Jade Emperor for this year’s Chinese New Year 2021:
In other Malaysian cities like Kuala Lumpur or Ipoh where the Chinese populations are mainly Cantonese and Hakka, this prayer tradition is practically unheard of, and not observed at all.
In Penang, it’s one of the largest religious festivals each year. There wasn’t the usual large one downtown this year because of COVID restrictions. This photo by my photographer friend, David ST Loh, is from last year’s celebration:
Thanks for taking time to explain. Impressive even without the real pig. Do you think you will continue to carry on these traditions and transmit them to the younger generations?
For the foreseeable future, yes. The young Chinese in Penang nowadays, for instance, are actually more interested in their culture and traditions than us baby-boomers, who tend to take much for granted.
The Southern Chinese have settled in Southeast-Asia since the Yuan Dynasty - 3 years ago, I visited Lasem, a town in Central Java which has a 700 year old “Chinatown”. And their Taoist religious traditions are virtually identical to what we have in Penang, as in Singapore or Bangkok among the Hokkien community.
For centuries, the Chinese in Southeast-Asia carried on their traditions uninterrupted by the civil war and the Cultural Revolution in China, which destroyed much of the old folk religions and cultural traditions in the old country.
When there was growing rapprochement between Communist China and the Southeast Asian countries in the past 20 years, we started getting Chinese tourists and visitors here in large numbers. The first thing that confounded the Mainland Chinese visitors was how the Chinese in Southeast Asia had preserved the old cultural and religious traditions which had been completely wiped out in China by the Communists.
The funny bit was that, in terms of values, attitudes and way of thinking, the Southeast Asian Chinese actually have more in common with the West, than with China. And yet, we hold fast to the old (pre-Communist) Chinese traditions and culture than the Mainland Chinese themselves.
A couple of my friends who are food historians also conjectured upon the bread-substitute for sacrificial pig theory.
Pigs-in-baskets are also usually associated with “killing the pig” - hence the use of the “baskets” to contain the pig-shaped biscuits.
This write-up here on steamed bun substitute for human sacrifice during the Zhou Dynasty is also an interesting read:
Yeah, there is the famous act of execution by punishing adultery couple or person by drowning in pig baskets.
For amusement, I also tried to read a bit on this after asking the question.
There can be another explanation:
Cheng* says that pigs and pig cages have many different meanings in Chinese culture.
“There’s an auspicious greeting we use during Lunar New Year, where we wish people good luck so they have riches flowing into their lives like ‘water into a pig’s cage’,”** she says.
“The older generations also used to call young children in their family ‘little piggies’ as an endearing term, so to associate children with piglets and the cages that hold them during the Mid-Autumn Festival isn’t that big a stretch.”
*Phoebe Cheng, associate director of sales and marketing at Kee Wah Bakery, Hong Kong
Quotation from the article below, which also gives a historical origin of piggy biscuit.
This is really interesting and frightening, as well.
Does this come from nostalgic and not wanting to detach from one’s origin. When I see Chinese immigrates in the Western countries, the sense of staying true to the tradition is less strong when compared to what we see in MY. I guess one of the reason, in the west, you don’t see the same fruits or same ingredients that allow you to celebrate traditions in the same way, which is easier to do in South East Asia. Also, I’m quite surprised that after a few generations of quitting China, the Chinese community marry among the Chinese and not mix with the locals in the countries they are staying. This relatively big community helps to keep alive the traditions.
Interesting. Usually with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation, people feel they belong more to the country they are born in, than their origin.
There isn’t a type of mooncake you like?
It’s true that the traditional ones are quite heavy and sweet, one can’t consume a lot the same time. I’ve tried some more modern versions over the years, the ones with custard, snow skin, ice cream, but I still want the traditional one once a while.
I’ve only eaten the commercial ones in tins from the market. I can’t say I dislike them but only buy/rcv them as gifts for the festival.
I’m part of the Straits-born Chinese community (Peranakan/Baba-Nyonyas), spanning Singapore, Malacca and Penang, with our own hybrid Chinese-Malay culture. My Malaccan & Singaporean relatives still observe the old Chinese traditions, but none of us can speak, read or write Mandarin. Our mother tongue at home is Baba-Malay, which is closer to Indonesian than (Malaysian) Malay, besides English.
There was a study last year by the Singapore Genealogical Society where about 160 members (out of 2,000) of the Peranakan Association of Singapore took part in getting their DNA tested. Not surprisingly, almost all of them had about 90% Chinese DNA, and with 5%-10% Malay DNA.
Kuala Lumpur’s Babas & Nyonyas:
The level of assimilation by Chinese-Malaysians are still very low (compared to their Chinese counterparts in Thailand or the Philippines) as native Malays are all Muslims, and Islam would forbid most of the Chinese cultural practices (e.g. ancestor-worship), as well as consumption of pork, perhaps the Chinese’ most important type of meat.
My family actually makes mooncakes every year, and will be doing so again this year.
But to me, mooncakes has always been like the Chinese version of American fruitcakes. Better seen and not eaten.
Stuff is just vile.
That’s a lot of dedication. What’s the difference the homemade ones and the store bought?
I love mooncakes! Can’t have too much, though - only a quarter piece of a cake each time.
This was my lunch today: baked Cantonese mooncake with lotus paste, salted duck’s egg-yolk and melon seeds.
Homemade snow skin “ice” mooncakes. 冰皮月饼
Looks good! What’s the filling?