IT WAS an evening of cultural extravaganza as several thousand people thronged Armenian Park in Armenian Street, the George Town heritage enclave for the Tanjong Lantern Festival.
There were various attractions at the event, held to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, including demonstrations of folk art, entertainment, food and lantern walk.
At one stall, children were taught the ancient Chinese folk art of paper cutting, known as jianzhi.
They created intricate images and patterns of animals and geometric patterns under the watchful eye of the stall keepers while their parents learned about brewing and serving Chinese tea at a nearby stall.
At one of the more popular stalls, people of all ages chose henna tattoo designs to be drawn on their arms.
Traditional Chinese dances featuring beautiful and graceful maidens in colourful costumes, and a Chinese instrument ensemble were among the entertainment highlights.
Adding to the atmosphere, were people dressed in hanfu, traditional attire of the Han Chinese. They walked around, giving visitors an opportunity to take pictures with them.
Food trucks served up dishes like char koay teow and koay teow th’ng that are synonymous with Penang.
There were also hamburgers, boba tea, fried spiral or tornado potatoes and Korean fried chicken among others.
French backpacker Alain Baptiste, 38, had just arrived in Penang and was headed to his hostel in Little India when he came across the event.
“I was highly entertained by the performances, and the food was exquisite.
“I had just come from the Philippines via Thailand, and I was feeling really hungry so seeing the numerous food trucks really made my day.
“I tried the char koay teow and the taste really fascinated me. The plate of savoury flat rice noodles was really delicious and tasted like nothing I’ve had before,” said the first-time visitor.
Time to come together
The highlight of the event saw some 250 children and their families on a short lantern walk around Beach Street and Acheh Street, led by Komtar assemblyman Teh Lai Heng.
Present at the event were Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, Penang Island City Council (MBPP) mayor Datuk A. Rajendran, Pengkalan Kota assemblyman Wong Yuee Harng and MBPP councillor Alan Lim Wei Lun.
Chow, in his speech, said he was happy to be able to celebrate the festival with the people of Penang, especially residents of the Tanjong constituency.
“I’m glad to see so many people participating with their families and friends.
“This is an important festival for the Chinese community and a time for families to come together.
“We had to postpone this festival for three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic but it has returned this year with a bang.
“The event is the best time for the Chinese community to share their traditions with everyone, to promote harmony and unity.”
Chow added that the participation of various races reflected the atmosphere of racial harmony in Malaysia.
He said September is special because both the Mid-Autumn Festival and Malaysia Day fell in the same month.
“This festival also known as the Mooncake or Lantern Festival teaches us the importance of strengthening relationships, while Malaysia Day teaches us unity.
“Therefore, we must always remember that, despite our different ethnicities and religions, we are all Malaysians.
“This is what unites us as one family to face the coming challenges together.”
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Sept 29, which is the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.
During the Shang Dynasty 3,500 years ago, this period was deemed the most auspicious for celebrating the harvest season and families would venture out to admire the full moon.
There are several legends associated with the festival but the most popular is that of Chang Er, the wife of a cruel king.
To save the people from her husband’s tyrannical rule, she drank the elixir of immortality he had intended to drink himself, and she ascended to the moon.
The celebration would not be complete without the mouth-watering mooncakes, which are associated with a folk tale of revolutionaries using the cakes to smuggle messages in their effort to overthrow the Mongols.
Each year, mooncake producers have come up with bolder, more imaginative fillings to cater to the young and health-conscious market.
Among them is Alice Lim, 51, whose mooncakes are made using natural ingredients, including osmanthus flowers, goji berries, vanilla, milk and butterfly pea flowers.
Her specialities are jelly mooncakes that resemble crystal cubes adorned with vibrant three-dimensional designs.
“When customers present these mooncakes on special occasions, I feel a profound sense of joy knowing that I’ve contributed to their happiness,” she said.
Another manufacturer, Leong Yin Pastry, is introducing flavours like the “Baba Nyonya”, lychee with cranberry and yuzu, and six coarse grains with yam.
The company is among the country’s largest mooncake and pastry manufacturers.
Its managing director Dr Leong Kok Fei said the three flavours were among the company’s 18 varieties this year.
“Nowadays, customers are more health conscious and selective of what they eat so we decided to produce mooncakes using fruits, nuts and grains.
“In addition to its lotus paste filling, the Baba Nyonya mooncake contains sambal and dried shrimp with a blend of spices that is synonymous with Penang, which is famed for its Peranakan culture.
“The lychee, cranberry and yuzu mooncake will appeal to the younger generation with its refreshing flavour.
“Those who are health conscious may opt for the six coarse grain-yam mooncake.
“The fillings contain pumpkin seeds, melon seeds, walnuts and oats, with the middle filled with yam paste instead of salted egg yolk.”
“The majority of consumers still prefer traditional flavours, such as lotus paste, red bean paste and pandan paste.
“Traditional mooncakes make up about 60% of our total sales,” he said.
The company also manufactures a wide range of mooncakes and supplies mooncake pastes for local and foreign markets.
Leong said the company imported 80% of its raw ingredients and the confections were produced at its factory in Juru, Bukit Mertajam.
“Prices have changed a little this year.
“We believe market response will be as good as it was last year, following the lifting of the (Covid-19) movement control order.
“We have received a high number of orders from retailers.
“Many customers will continue buying mooncakes as it is an essential and symbolic gift either to express appreciation or to foster better bonds,” he added.