I had a Friday off sick last month. I'd had a bad cold for few days but, as everyone does here in China, had continued to work. (Remember that a couple of years ago I was back at work, in plaster, two days after breaking my leg!) On Friday though I had one of those "gargling with razor blades" throats and I could barely speak enough to ring in sick. It was approaching the mid-Autumn festival and throughout my day off people kept coming to my apartment and giving me things. There was off course fruit - oranges and bananas and a large box containing more pomegranates than I could consume in a month. I still have some of them left to prove the point. As well as the fruit, though, there was mooncake. Everyone who came brought some mooncake for me. I ended up with quite a lot of it.It's the traditional Chinese food for mid-Autumn festival, rather like we eat Easter Eggs or Christmas Pudding. They all look very similar. Small round pastries about six centimeters across and about two centimeters deep, stamped with Chinese letters on the top. A couple of them had a white pastry rather than a brown but otherwise they were, to the eye indistinguishable.
The trouble with mooncake is that it's a bit like the Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans in Harry Potter. You never know what's inside till you bite it. It could be delicious chopped mixed fruit. It could be not so delicious red bean paste. It could be the weird chopped lotus and green teal leaves. Or it could be the one that's a mix of sweet fruits and nuts and savoury fried pork which is, to be generous, not compatible with western palates. Some of the more... er... unconventional tastes I couldn't even hazard a guess at.
Now I daresay that somewhere in the packaging it tells, in Chinese, exactly what to expect but that is, of course, no use to me.
I tried all of them. Of about twenty there were maybe four that were delicious, four that I could force down and the rest I had to spit out the first cautious bite and then throw away the remainder. And that is of course why I always waited until my visitors had gone before trying the treats they had brought for me. I didn't want to give offense. Of course they will probably give me even more next year.
Would anyone care for a job as my food taster?