Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! (中秋节快乐！)
It’s that time of year again—the weather is just turning a little bit colder, at night the moon is clear and full, and the fancy-yet-slightly-tackily decorated tins of moon cakes start filling the shelves at your Chinese supermarket—it’s the Mid-Autumn Festival!
Straight from Wikipedia, here’s the meaning of the festival:
- gathering, such as family and friends coming together, or harvesting crops
- thanksgiving, to give thanks for the harvest, or for harmonious unions
- praying (asking for conceptual or material satisfaction), such as for babies, a spouse, beauty, longevity, or for a good future
These days, folks celebrate by getting together for a nice meal and eating moon cakes—another one of China’s tasty seasonal treats!
These pastries are filled with sweet pastes—red bean and white lotus are the most popular—and sometimes a salty duck egg yolk (not my cuppa, but it’s an acquired taste). The exterior is a wonderfully crumby chewy crust (can’t think of a better word for it), that melts in your mouth when you eat it. When I was younger, I’d lament that you couldn’t get at the yummy crust without the interference of the paste. I’d use a fork and just eat the perimeter of the moon cake and leave the middle (which often had an egg yolk) for my parents or grandparents to eat. But now I enjoy the whole thing. In fact, I have to restrain myself from eating too many! (Don’t look at the nutrition facts. It WILL ruin the holiday.)
In true Cantonese fashion, my dad prefers the white lotus paste with salty duck egg yolk. I’m more of a plain Jane red bean girl myself, though. Sarah could take them or leave them—all the more for the rest of us! My mom is a bit more adventurous and will try anything once. In Beijing they sell ones that are filled with some kind of minced beef filling. We tried them last year—yeah: Not. Good.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important holidays in China, and eating moon cakes and giving them as gifts is practically a civic duty. Being the good Chinese girl that I am, I fit a trip to Chinatown into my schedule to make my obligatory purchase. (My radio silence on the blog lately is because school is in full swing! Oh the joys of being shackled to your desk…)
I arrived at the store and bee-lined for the moon cake section (yes, there is a SECTION when the holiday is nigh.) I was looking for just plain old red bean and white lotus. All of the tins were either labeled only in Chinese, had no indication of flavors at all, or had egg yolks. They also stocked some single moon cakes they had removed from their packaging for us lonely city folk. The fun thing about moon cakes is that they have built in labels—the molds they use to shape the moon cakes have Chinese characters indicating what flavor they are. So a moon cake with “double egg yolks” will read “双黄” (“double yellow”), red bean will read “红豆,” etc. Using my rudimentary Chinese and some cross examinations with tins that had Chinese and English labels, I passed over the selection of regular moon cakes in favor of some trays of mini moon cakes—one red bean and one white lotus paste.
And then I proceeded to eat 2 without delay on the way back to my apartment.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!