The Dine Around Downtown food festival returned to lower Manhattan yesterday outside 28 Liberty Plaza, drawing hungry diners despite wind and rain that threatened to extinguish cooking flames at the vendors' outdoor tents. Before the festival's 11 a.m. kickoff, chef Lu YaMing and his team from Shanghai's famed Lubolang restaurant were hard at work in a kitchen sixty floors above, preparing 600 mooncakes that would sell for $3 a piece.

Originally intended as a sacrifice to the moon, mooncakes are still eaten in China during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which fell this year on September 27th (the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar). Typical mooncakes consist of a flaky, pastry shell filled with sweet red bean or lotus paste, as well as egg yolk. However, Shanghainese chefs like Lu specialize in a savory variety called the fresh pork mooncake: a pastry filled with minced pork, whose flavor is somewhat comparable to that of a well-seasoned meatball.

"I use a very Chinese, traditional recipe that has developed with time and varied between chefs," Lu said. "It comes with skills and a long time of practicing, and different experiments."

The fresh pork mooncake takes a full two days to make: One day marinating the minced pork filling (with "secret ingredients," according to Lu); and one day preparing the pastry dough, filling it with the pork, stamping each mooncake with a red character (which means, quite literally, "fresh pork mooncake"), and baking the mooncakes for an hour. Freshness is important, so the mooncakes are always cooked and served within hours of being stuffed.

"As a person who's from outside of Shanghai, I hadn't tried a fresh hot pork mooncake until yesterday, because it's a Shanghai specialty," said Stephanie Hong, who helped translate. "Most of the mooncakes in China are sweet, and this is the only savory one."

In addition to mooncakes, Lubolang's tent at Dine Around Downtown served Wuliangye Pull Cakes (sticky rice cakes) and Salt and Pepper Cashew Crisps (flaky sesame pastries with a sweet cashew mixture inside). But the mooncakes were the real hit: last year, at Lubolang's first appearance at Dine Around Downtown, these unusual pastries sold out within the first hour; this year, the line was longer than that at nearly any other tent. And for good reason: Lu has been perfecting his recipe for 32 years.

"My father and grandfather were both famous chefs," he said. "Before I started school, I had already learned how to make dim sum."