Festivity, Food, Tradition

A Revolutionary Cake: The Mooncake Festival (1)

Around this time every year, many Chinese families start to look around for mooncakes to prepare for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which is always the middle of the eighth month in the East Asian Lunar Calendar, when the moon is full and the largest. This year, it will fall on the 24th of September. In Asian and Chinese communities all over the world, it is an evening of family dinners, mooncakes, folklores, and lanterns.Among these traditions, the story of the mooncake is an interesting one worth chewing on a little. At the core of its many regional variations, the classic mooncake is a rich, decorated, round shaped sweet pastry about the size of your palm. The shape of the cake resembles the full moon which gives it its name.

A revolutionary cake

Legend has it that the mooncake was made popular after the successful uprising against the Yuan Dynasty (when the Mongolian ruled China in the 15th century), because a revolutionary came up with the idea to slip a message about the date of the uprising to thousands of people into these unsuspected cakes.In its original, pre-industrial form, mooncakes were made by skilled pastry chefs with a lavishly carved wooden mould; the stuffing of lotus seed paste and whole salted egg yolks– the variation most common in the south – is pressed into the mould, thinly lined with a pastry wrap. Then, with a well-trained hand, the whole mooncake is neatly popped out with a single gentle tap of the mould onto the table, ready to be baked and sold.The art of this traditional delicacy is not lost as it is passed down in different countries outside of China. Beside the traditional type, countries have develop their own versions of mooncakes. In Vietnam, for example, there is a type that uses sticky rice; in Japan, people use the more common red bean for filling; in Indonesia, tropical fruits are used and loved by many. While the recipes differ, they are all enjoyed during the same time of the year. The tradition of mooncakes has definitely become richer with these variations in ingredients and shapes; they have kept the festival interesting and relevant to the lives of people under different cultures.

Wooden Mould for moon cakes, Kinh ethnic group, Nam Dinh province – Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts – Hanoi, Vietnam


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