Mooncakes are eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節/ 中秋节). What are mooncakes, you ask? Mid-Autumn Festival? It’s only beginning to feel like Autumn! Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more with my collaboration with Hong Kong MX Mooncakes!
( Other countries celebrate their own version of this, held also at the same time, but this post will focus on just the Mid-Autumn Festival and how it’s celebrated in my own culture, Chinese. )
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a festival celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese people in late September – early October to mark the end of the harvest season. This would be mid-autumn in East Asia. The festival used to give thanks for a plentiful harvest, but nowadays it is similar to Thanksgiving where families gather together to celebrate. The date follows the lunar (moon) calendar, so the date varies according to our standard (Gregorian) calendar. The festival is celebrated on 15th day of the 8th month according to the lunar calendar when the moon is full. For this reason, it is also called the Moon Festival.
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 1st October in 2020, 21st September in 2021 and 10th September in 2022.
There are a lot of stories surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival. I will talk about the two most popular ones, which you will see imagery for during the festival.
The story starts with Chang’e’s husband, Hou Yi (后羿), who was an experienced archer. Some stories even say he was part of the Imperial Guard. In the past, the Earth was plagued by 10 suns which caused a lot of suffering and crop damage. Hou Yi went to the top of Kunlun mountain and shot down 9 of the suns. The people were thankful and he was gifted an elixir of life which allowed the person to rise up to the heavens and become immortal. Some say it was the Jade Emporer who gave him this, others say it was the Queen of Heaven. Hou Yi did not want to take the elixir and thus leave his wife on Earth, so he gave it to Chang’e for safekeeping.
Chang’e ends up taking the elixir and floats towards the moon, but there are many stories about why she did so. One story said that an evil man called Peng Meng broke into the house whilst Hou Yi was away, to steal the elixir and threatened Chang’e’s life. Knowing she couldn’t defeat him she took the elixir and ascended to the moon. Another said she took it deliberately because Hou Yi turned into a tyrant lord and she didn’t want to risk her husband becoming an immortal dictator. Another said she took the elixir selfishly for herself, or that Hou Yi had an affair so she took it to escape him.
The one I personally like follows the first story, but then Hou Yi becomes the God of the Sun so once a year on the 15th day of the 8th month when the moon is full, they meet as the moon is at its brightest.
The rabbit on the moon
Three immortal beings disguised themselves as three old men and asked three animals for some food, a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and monkey gave the men some food, but the rabbit did not have any. Instead, he told the men that they can eat him, and then jumped into a fire. The immortals were so touched, they granted the rabbit immortality and brought the rabbit to the Jade Palace on the moon, to accompany Chang’e. The rabbit also mashes herbs to create the elixirs of life.
As the moon is bright and full, some will take a place outside in a park to observe it. A reunion dinner is usually normal, where you gather family together as you would for say Thanksgiving or Christmas. You would eat food representative of the moon, such as pumpkins, pomelo (a fruit which is a cross between a grapefruit and an orange), oranges, apples, melons and moon cake. It is also believed that eating duck after Mid-Autumn helps to rebalance the yin and yang (internal energy) in a person. Wine made with osmanthus flower is also drunk as it represents family union and a happy life. Other symbolic food such as fish for luck can also be eaten.
It is also a time to swap stories and think about family. An honour table can be set up with some of the food described previously, and incense burned for relatives who have passed away. Lanterns are lit as decoration and as toys for children. Sometimes there will be a space set up for large lanterns by the city and you can walk around and see lanterns shaped as different deities and animals. Such events have grown increasingly popular outside Asia.
It is popular to buy a box of mooncakes for family and friends, as you would do Christmas presents.
Moon cake (月餅/月饼)
So what is moon cake? Contrary to the term, cake, they are actually more like a pastry with a really dense filling. There are many varieties of moon cake, but the one I grew up with is the Cantonese style. The filling in these are traditionally sweetened lotus seed paste and salted egg yolk(s). If you’ve never had lotus seed paste, think about the density and sweetness of fudge, and you won’t be far off. The egg yolk represents the full moon. I didn’t like the combination of salty and sweet when I was younger, and a lot of people still don’t. I have now learned to appreciate and enjoy this as I’ve gotten older.
Hong Kong MX Mooncakes
Popular in East Asia, Hong Kong MX Mooncakes is a top brand for moon cakes! They have been the No.1 selling Mooncakes for 21 consecutive years* and for good reason! The quality of each moon cake is top-notch. The pastry on the outside of the traditional mooncake is really thin and the lotus seed paste has a good consistency without being too oily. The egg yolk is perfect and not overcooked. Not keen on trying that sweet and salty combo? You can also get this traditional mooncake without the egg yolk (I believe these are then vegan-friendly)! Live for those yolks? Great, you can also get these with three yolks!
The custard ones have been sweeping Asia. These are smaller in size but that’s perfect for solo eating. I recommend that you warm these up! Whether you prefer your custard as a more set consistency or a gooey lava, there is a mooncake for you!
Alternative versions include red bean paste instead of lotus seed paste, and a traditional mixed nut version. I’ll admit, I’m not fond of the later but my mother and my grandmother love them!
*According to the Nielsen Research Report 1998 – 2018 Hong Kong. This claim is only applicable to their Traditional Mooncake Range not the Lava or Snowy Ranges
To purchase, please visit the website below.