Hi friends! It’s October 1st and today is the Mid Autumn Festival or as I like to call it, mooncake mania day. As our blog is called Mooncake Sisters, I couldn’t sit still and not tell you about those festivities and the different types of mooncakes across Asia.
Mid Autumn Festival and why we eat mooncakes
The Mid Autumn Festival (中秋节) takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar and is the second most important Chinese holiday. The festival is celebrated across Asia and takes the name of Tsukimi (月見) in Japan, Chuseok in South Korea and Têt Trung Thu in Vietnam. This is a time for families to gather around a table, eat good food and give their thanks. It can be considered as the Chinese Thanksgiving.
The Mid Autumn Festival was celebrated as far back as the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC) and was established to give thanks for the harvest. Some ancient stories about the Festival include a dragon (still celebrated in Hong Kong), the moon worship and the white rabbit (or moon rabbit).
Among the traditions of the Mid Autumn Festival you can find cities illuminated by lanterns and an array of mooncakes everywhere. There even was a parade in Shanghai when I was there in 2019.
The legend of Chang’e or the mooncake origin story
There are a couple stories surrounding the festivities but the one major one is the Chang’e and Houyi story. I’ve kept the story short and sweet, so sit tight.
In ancient times, there was a hero called Hou Yi who was married to Chang’e. At that time, the Earth had 10 suns which was a real pain because… hot. Luckily for the people of the Earth Hou Yi was real talented at archery and shot down 9 of the suns so only the one that we all know and love nowadays remained (don’t forget your SPF). Out of admiration for this wonderful act, an Immortal gave Yi an immortality elixir (not talking about SK II genoptics essence here). Yi was thankful but didn’t want to leave his wife behind so he kept the elixir but did not drink it.
Unfortunately one of his apprentices knew of the elixir and decided to steal it on the fifteeenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. The apprentice, Peng Meng, came to their house while Hou Yi was out hunting and tried to force Chang’e to give him the elixir. Chang’e refused to give it to him and instead drank the elixir herself. As a consequence she sore to the moon, leaving her husband behind.
When Yi came back and learnt what happened, he was so sad he started making cakes in the shape of the moon (our great mooncakes) and displayed fruits and cakes as a sacrifice to his wife. The end.
Mooncakes and their different origins
Mooncakes are usually round or square with a white to golden colour. It’s filled with all sorts of yummy things. I usually eat it with tea as it can be a little dry to my taste. Different regions and countries have their own recipes and here are some I came across either IRL or online.
China has different mooncakes depending on regions and there are probably more than I don’t know about so feel free to add on to this list.
Traditional Lotus Paste (lotus paste and salted egg yolk) I think this is the one all my friends like the most. It isn’t my favourite but it’s a classic you must try. Plus, lotus paste is considered a delicacy so you can look all fancy
Salted Duck Egg Yolk. I have a bad experience with duck egg so I stayed away from that one. Camille reckons it sounds delicious.
Cantonese 5 Kernel Mooncake (peanuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, winter melon seeds, almonds and ham)
Zilaihong (red sugar, osmanthus paste, hawthorn, dried orange peel)
Shanghai Mooncake (red bean paste, melon seeds) It ain’t bad. I did however profoundly shock the Mooncake shop seller because I told her I needed to bring some mooncakes home to my family but it couldn’t have red bean paste in it because the fam wouldn’t eat it. Thought she would call security on me.
Meat Mooncake (layered pastry with minced pork) It’s perfect for a little snack. I don’t want to brag but one of my coworkers comes from Suzhou and brought me one from there on the Monday after the festival.
Suzhou Mooncake (crushed rose petals, five nuts, bean paste)
Flower Mooncake (rose, jasmine or chrysanthemum) Yunnan is known to have great food. It’s a region close to Thailand so the food is very fragrant and has a lot of fruit. I went to a Yunnan restaurant in Shanghai, best food I had there. Hopefully I’ll get to go there and try their Mooncakes one day.
Salt and Pepper Mooncake (fried onions, lard salt, white pepper, rose flavoured sugar, sesame seeds, melon seeds, dried tangerine skin peel). I’m a savoury kind of person so I really want to try this one!
Now I know technically Teochew and Hokkien are Chinese but for me it is two of the biggest Chinese ethnic groups in Singapore and Malaysia so it made sense to me.
Snow Skin Mooncake (Fruit, matcha, chocolate, champagne paste and more) The girliest of the mooncakes, probably the most instagramable.
Teochew Chaoshan Mooncake (mung bean, black bean, yam)
Hokkien Scholar Cakes (Melon Seeds, tangerine peel, winter melon)
Japanese Geppei (Red beans, lotus seeds, walnuts, Chinese dates)
Vietnamese Coconut Mooncake (shredded coconut, sunflower and sesame seeds) obviously the superior Mooncake.
Taiwanese Taro Swirl Mooncake (layered pastries with sweetened taro paste and sometimesan egg)
Filipino Hopia (Mung bean and ube (purple yam) paste)
Korea doesn’t actually have mooncakes, they have something called Songpyeon which is a half moon shaped rice cake stuffed with sweetened sesame seeds and traditionally steamed on a bed of pine needles (songpyeon means pine tree)
Here you have it! I know I didn’t include everything but I hope this gives you some ideas on what to eat until next time. Until then, happy mid Autumn Festival everybody!