We have heard of the Chinese New Year being a big-ticket affair in Asia, but it’s not the only festival that’s celebrated with much fun fare.
Chinese welcome the Mid-Autumn festival with equal fervour. Popularly known as the mooncake festival or moon festival, it is also celebrated in various Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. In 2006, the Mid-Autumn Festival was listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage by China, just like their burger, Rou Jia Mo (in 2016).
It is a celebration of abundant harvest, and expressing gratitude to the moon as the ancient Chinese believed that the movement of the moon significantly contributed to crop production and change in season. Delicious moon cakes are prepared and exchanged between families and friends during this festival.
What are mooncakes?
A traditional mooncake is a circular-shaped treat with a dense stuffing of lotus seed paste and coated with a thin and crispy crust. These may sometimes have salted duck egg yolks in the centre.
The imprints on the mooncakes are generally of Chinese characters, which represent longevity or harmony. Bakers also take customised orders to imprint rabbits (symbol of moon), moon or moon palace. With time, this delicacy has evolved and we can find dozens of varieties across the market. Few popular options include:
Red bean paste mooncake: This filling is sweeter compared to the lotus seed paste. It has a smooth and thick texture.
Green tea or matcha mooncake: These mooncakes are infused with flavours of tea either in the lotus seed paste or red bean paste. Some bakers use tea leaves instead of matcha.
Chocolate mooncake: Who doesn’t love chocolates? A decadent chocolate filling coated with a crispy crust is a treat for the eyes as well as taste-buds. Bakers who like to experiment, mix oats, cereals or berries into the chocolate stuffing.
Five kernel and pork: Dry fruits and seeds like almonds, walnuts, dried melon seeds, lotus seeds and pumpkin seeds are mixed with roasted pork to prepare the rich stuffing; no wonder it is also the most expensive variety.
Some bakers also experiment with different egg yolks in the filling. If you are health conscious or vegetarian, you can opt for vegetable or fruit-infused mooncakes.
As families exchange mooncakes, most places start selling them before the festivities begin in decorative boxes. On the eve of the festival, families get-together for dinner and relish moon cakes with tea while appreciating the full moon.
On this day, people light paper lanterns or floating lanterns with riddles tied to them. Public places are decorated with unique designs of lanterns to add to the festivities. Dragon horn, a lesser-known vegetable unique to this region, floods the market around this season. But its appearance is short-lived, so people line-up to buy and cook with this rare vegetable.