Swimmer swears by mooncakes, but in the Games canteen they prove to be a hard sell

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 September, 2008, 12:00am

World-record-breaking Paralympian Enhamed Enhamed now swears by them and Chinese across the world eat them by the gift-wrapped box load - but mooncakes proved hard to swallow at the Olympic Village during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Spanish 50-metre freestyle S11 swimmer delighted the host Paralympics nation yesterday when he said his gold medal-winning performance in the Water Cube was down to his pre-race consumption of the traditional pastry.

'I had a chance to eat mooncakes after lunch, and perhaps they do bring good luck because precisely what you need to win this event is good luck,' the swimmer said after his win.

The endorsement was welcomed by millions of Chinese who took advantage of the extended festival to travel - with cake boxes under arm - to be with loved ones for the annual family reunion that ends tonight.

The central government made the festival a three-day national holiday for the first time this year.

But during dinnertime last night at the Olympic Village's vast canteen, product placement was to blame for the lack of interest in the treat among the 4,000-plus diners.

Perhaps it was a mistake to situate the lard-rich, sweet-n-salty, alien-looking cakes next to the universally loved souffle cream puffs on the dessert counter.

'Do I have to eat it now?' asked a sceptical Jordan Raynes, a football player from the British seven-a-side team.

Eyeing up the custard trifle, he reluctantly put a red bean paste sample on his tray at the behest of the South China Morning Post. 'I'll give it a go,' he said unconvincingly.

On hand to push the mooncakes - the canteen has ordered 20,000 - was one of the greatest Olympians of all time, table tennis sensation Deng Yaping.

'The cakes have been made with healthy ingredients. We have had them specially baked with fillings that are nutritious,' said Deng, who is now the village spokeswoman.

Gone from the Paralympics cakes are salty duck eggs, jujube paste and beef-dripping crust - omissions that would surely turn the stomach of any mooncake connoisseur in disgust.

However, unlike the ingredient lists next to the almond biscuits and walnut cookies detailing the sodium, fat and calories content of each, the essential elements of Biscuit aux Lotus, as the mooncakes were named in French, were missing.

The dessert servers were asked why. But before they could give an answer, mooncake officialdom intervened.

'They cannot be interviewed,' said Diane Maul, who works for the catering company.

But before the mooncake-gagging order became another Games scandal, deputy manager of venue catering Yu Wei explained.

'We have cut down on the sugar, salt and sodium - and reduced fat - to make sure they are good for the athletes,' he said.

The Guan Je De bakery was instructed to ensure each cake was filled only with healthy red bean and lotus seed, wrapped in a light pastry.

As dinner wore on, things picked up as diners read the history of the autumn moon festival, which was printed on the back of menus in several languages.

A Thai coach grabbed four cakes and put them on his plate next to several cream puffs - but he was too hungry to talk.

And the Post witnessed a Czech and a two Brazilians coming back for second helpings.