Perhaps one of the most fun Chinese celebrations apart from the Chinese New Year is the Mid-Autumn or Mooncake Festival. This is a joyous festival of feasting and moon gazing. Children are allowed to stay up late to light paper lanterns. As with all Chinese celebrations, food plays a major part in the festivities. Special foods for this festival include mooncakes, cooked mini taro, and water caltrope which is a kind of water chestnut resembling black buffalo horns. To see a picture of the water caltrope, click here.
The Mooncake Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Lunar Calendar, around the time of the autumn equinox. The date on the Gregorian (western) calendar changes annually. This year, the festival falls on Wednesday, September 22, 2010.
Round about this time mooncakes are widely sold in China and all overseas Chinese communities. These cakes are about 3 inches in diameter and 1½ inches thick. They have a golden brown crust with a filling of bean paste, melon seeds, lotus seeds, almonds, minced meats, and orange peel. A yolk from a salted duck egg is normally placed in the center of the filling. Today, there are many variations of these cakes with different pastries and fillings. Some of the pastries include the flaky pastry, spiral pastry, and snowskin pastry made of glutinous rice flour with a texture similar to that of mochi. There is also a myriad of fillings from lotus seed paste, red bean paste, taro, mashed sweet potatoes, green tea, and even durian.
According to folklore the Mooncake Festival commemorates a rebellion in China against the Mongol rulers in the 14th century. It was noted that the Mongols did not eat mooncakes and so it was the perfect vessel for hiding and passing along plans for the rebellion. Thousands of mooncakes with the “message” were distributed to the Chinese families in the cities. On the night of the Mid-Autumn festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government.
These mooncakes were purchased at the Asian grocery store that I frequent each week. They are so beautifully packaged. Each cake is individually wrapped and comes in its own tin. I believe the women depicted on the tins are the four great beauties of ancient China. They are
1. Xi Shi whose beauty would would sink fishes because they forget how to swim when she walks by.
2. Wang Zhaojun whose beauty would entice birds in flight to fall from the sky with her appearance.
3. Diao Chan was so beautiful that the moon would shy away when compared to her face.
4. Yang Guifei whose beauty would put all flowers to shame.
Wow…..to be bestowed with such beauty! Anyway, these tins sure are keepers.
I chose the plain lotus seed paste mooncakes without the egg yolk. The salty egg yolk is an acquired taste.
Can’t wait any longer…..had to take a bite! Could be a little more moist but still pretty good, especially if you only get to eat it once a year.
It’s fun to light paper lanterns. Aren’t they pretty? Please do share your Mooncake Festival celebration with us.
Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day!