This September 29th Chinese in America will celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, held during the full moon on the 15th moon day of the 8th lunar month. In the Chinese time zone celebrations will be on September 30th. This holiday has been celebrated for over 3,000 years and, after Spring Festival, is considered the second most important holiday of the year. Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the few reunion holidays for Chinese families. On this day, Chinese family members will stay together, admire the full moon and eat mooncakes.
The holiday traces back to moon worship in ancient times, but the tradition of eating mooncakes, now a staple of the celebration, is a little more modern. Legend has it that at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368, a dynasty ruled by the Mongols), the Han people's army wanted to overthrow the rule of Mongols. They planned an uprising, but they had no way to inform every Han people who wanted to join them without being discovered by the Mongols. One day, the military counselor of the Han people's army, Liu Bowen, thought out a stratagem related to mooncakes. Liu Bowen asked his soldiers to spread the rumor that there would be a serious disease in winter and eating mooncakes was the only way to cure the disease. He then asked soldiers to write "uprising, on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival" on slips of paper, put them into mooncakes and then sell them to common Han people. When the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival came a huge uprising broke out. From then on, people have eaten mooncakes every Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate the uprising.
Today typical Chinese mooncakes are round in shape, and measure around 4 inches in diameter and 2 inches in thickness. Most mooncakes consist of a thin tender skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling. Mooncakes are usually eaten in small wedges shared by family members. They are generally served with Chinese tea, and very rarely, mooncakes are served steamed or fried.
Mooncakes are the must-eat food for the Mid-Autumn Festival. It was customary for woman to prepare mooncakes at home when the festival was approaching. However, as the production is labor-intensive and they are widely available in markets, very few people make them at home nowadays. The price of mooncakes usually ranges from $ 10 (70 yuan) to $ 50 (340 yuan) for a box of four. However, very expensive mooncakes have appeared recently with some reaching thousands of yuan for a box.
The fillings of mooncakes vary by region and tradition. Some common flavors include:
Lotus seed paste (莲蓉, lían róng): It is made from dried lotus seeds. Lotus seed paste is considered by some people the most delicious and luxurious filling for mooncakes.
Sweet bean paste (豆沙, dòu shā): There are several types of sweet bean paste: mung bean paste, red bean paste and black bean potato paste. Red bean paste is the most commonly used filling for mooncakes.
Some regional styles include:
Cantonese-style mooncakes originate from South China's Guangdong Province. The ingredients used in the fillings are various, which reflects the Guangdong people's adventurous nature in eating. The most used ingredients include lotus seed paste, melon seed paste, ham, chicken, duck, roast pork, mushrooms, and egg yolks. Cantonese-style mooncakes taste sweet.
This style is the typical variation in North China. It originated in Beijing and Tianjin. It features the delicate use of sweetness, moderate allotment of skin and fillings, and meticulous decoration. The common proportion of skin and fillings for Beijing-style mooncakes is 4:6.
Modern mooncakes have taken on all kinds of unusual and luxurious flavors:
Ice cream mooncakes: These are made of ice cream, and made to look like mooncakes. They have become increasingly popular in recent years among young people and kids.
Seafood mooncakes: These are the most expensive mooncakes. They feature a fresh and slightly salty flavor. Commonly used fillings include: abalone, shark fin and dried purple seaweed.
Health food mooncakes: Health food mooncakes are a style of cake that is meant to benefit people's health. They are made of many healthy ingredients such as ginseng, calcium, medicated food and other things that are good for health.
Mooncakes are easy to find in Boston, especially if you’re in Chinatown. We recommend the Super 88 in Allston, or if you go down to Chinatown Hing Shing Pastry or Ho Yuen Bakery. Throughout Chinatown on the weekend of the 29th the residents will be celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. Invite your visitor to share this cultural event with you, and remember to share your stories with Global Immersions!