In multiethnic Malaysia, the blending of cultural and religious traditions often leads to distinctive results. At the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival, for instance, Malaysian Muslims will have the opportunity to sample halal mooncakes.
Mooncakes are a mainstay of the festival, observed primarily by ethnic Chinese. Many traditional recipes include pork and other ingredients which make them haram (forbidden) for Muslims. But inventive bakers have discovered substitutions, which will allow their cakes to be declared halal and thus safe for Muslims to eat.
The halal versions are a boon for Chinese who have converted to Islam but still wish to retain their cultural traditions, as well as for Malay Muslims who want to share in the celebrations.
Halal mooncakes first gained prominence in 2009 when the Mid-Autumn festival coincided with Eid-ul-Fitri. To commemorate the occasion, bakers made Eid-themed packaging to hold the traditional Chinese pastries.
Then, some confectioners began using dates for the paste filling instead of the original lotus seeds recipe.
"We live in a multiracial country and need to share our cultures and traditions," local baker Kong Tong Wah, told the Bernama news agency. "I believe using paste from dates will enable Muslims to accept mooncakes as just another delicacy.
In 2010, the 1Malaysia logo debuted on mooncakes after the Malay company Citra Purnama began production. Though the Idul Fitri and Mid-Autumn Festivals seasons do not coincide this year, many Muslims have nevertheless acquired a taste for the pastry.
Mustaqim Mustafa, a 23-year-old wealth advisor with Prudential, has enjoyed mooncakes since age 10. "I love the pandan-flavoured ones," he told Khabar.
Translator Razlin Razlan, 39, sums it up in one word: "Yum!"
An online list of halal mooncake confectioners is available on the Department of Islamic Development website.
"It makes good economic sense to comply to halal standards. It opens a vendor to market possibilities beyond that of one ethnicity," said Wong Jun Keit, a customer service representative from Purple Cane Tea House. "In a multiracial society like Malaysia, it spells better sales."
Halal certification also opens regional markets. Tay Bee Teck, a confectioner based in Casahana, said it enabled him to be part of the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation, a facilitating body for companies to penetrate the export market.
"I have a Balinese ceramic maker who wants to have an ongoing order of our mooncakes all year round," he said cautiously as "everything is still at the negotiation stage".
Economic adviser Mustaqim lauded what he described as a symbol of ethnic harmony.
"A multiracial society like Malaysia may have disagreements from time to time but the thread that has always held the fabric of society together is the appreciation of each other’s cuisine."