Cooking Corner: Traditional Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes
Traditional Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes
Nothing’s more traditional in the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival than the mooncake. As beautiful as mooncakes are; they are also quite technically challenging. Even for the skilled and adventurous soul, attempting to make mooncakes can be a bit of a conundrum. Read on to learn the history and customs of the delectable and beautiful treat.
Holiday Overview and Customs:
Second only to Chinese New Year’s, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the next largest festival in China. Its name originates from the season in which the holiday is celebrated. The actual dates of the holiday changes according to the Chinese Lunar calendar. Rather than the holiday being celebrated on one day, the festivities, much like Chinese New Year, extend to several days. Depending on the region; i.e. Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan; the actual non-working days vary.
During this time of celebration, families reunite, offer sacrifices (mooncakes) to the moon, eat mooncakes, and share memories and express feelings towards family and friends who cannot travel home for the festivities. Dancing and other regional traditions are common during the Mid-Autumn festival.
Origin of Holiday:
The origin of the holiday dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 245 BC) and continues throughout subsequent dynasties; changing customs and methods of celebration along the way. The ancient Chinese people expressed their thanks to the moon for their harvest by offering a sacrifice on the autumn days. People believed that the movement of the moon had a direct connection with the changing of the seasons and agricultural production.
What are Mooncakes:
Mooncakes are traditionally round or square shape stuffed pastries, filled with a variety of pastes and fillings. Decorations, fillings, crust, and shape all vary by region and are as unique in taste as they are beautiful in appearance. Mooncakes are the most traditional food item for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Mooncakes symbolize family, tradition, and have a profoundly deep-rooted cultural connection.
Flavors and Regional Varieties:
Flavors for fillings vary by regional customs, traditions, and food supply. According to Chinahighlights.com; some of the most common mooncake flavors are:
- Five kernel and roast pork
- Red bean paste
- Lotus seed paste
- Fruit and vegetable
- Green tea
- Ice cream
- Cream cheese
Other differences between regions can be identified in the complexity of decorations, types and colors of dough, and uniqueness in flavors. These regional variations are what make mooncakes special and enticing.
Regional differences include:
Cantonese-Style filled with sweet fillings
Beijing-Style which are known for their meticulous decorations
Suzhou-Style consisting of layers of crisp/flaky dough
Chaoshan-Style which are larger with a distinct crust and filled with vegi-paste
Yunnan-Style have the two most famous flavors: ham and flowers
Hong-Kong Style are known for their ice-skin mooncakes which are, despite their name, not covered in ice. These are not baked but instead are refrigerated.
Where to Purchase the Sweet Treats:
If making the sweet treats isn’t up your alley, no problem because there’s many local and online stores available for perusal. Local Chinese grocery stores have a large supply of mooncakes during the fall season; purchase early to ensure supplies are available for consumption during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Note: Health warning. Mooncakes are made of eggs and egg yolk and can result in serious complications if ingested by someone allergic to eggs. Similarly, it is advised that the purchaser conduct thorough research into the credibility of the online source to avoid any unwanted health risks.
Travel China Guide: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/mid-autumn.htm
China Highlights: https://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/mooncake.htm