Off The Beaten Path

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Georgia, United States
Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never ever the same.

Tuesday, September 25

Autumn Moon Festival

The Autumn Moon Festival

The festival (also called the Mooncake or Mid-Autumn festival) falls on September 25th in the year 2007. What is the Moon festival? Every year when the moon is at its maximum brightness for the entire year, the Chinese celebrate "zhong qiu jie." Children are told the story of the moon fairy living in a crystal palace, who comes out to dance on the moon's shadowed surface. The legend surrounding the "lady living in the moon" dates back to ancient times, to a day when ten suns appeared at once in the sky. The Emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the nine extra suns. Once the task was accomplished, Goddess of Western Heaven rewarded the archer with a pill that would make him immortal. However, his wife found the pill, took it, and was banished to the moon as a result.

The most famous legend surrounding the Moon festival concerns its possible role in Chinese history. Overrun by the Mongols in the thirteenth century, the Chinese threw off their oppressors in 1368 AD. It is said that mooncakes - which the Mongols did not eat - were the perfect vehicle for hiding and passing along plans for the rebellion. Families were instructed not to eat the mooncakes until the day of the moon festival, which is when the rebellion took place. (In another version plans were passed along in mooncakes over several years of Mid-Autumn festivals, but the basic idea is the same).

How to Celebrate the Moon Festival

Today, Chinese people celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival with dances, feasting and moon gazing. Not to mention mooncakes. While baked goods are a common feature at most Chinese celebrations, mooncakes are inextricably linked with the Moon festival. One type of traditional mooncake is filled with lotus seed paste. Roughly the size of a human palm, these mooncakes are quite filling, meant to be cut diagonally in quarters and passed around. This explains their rather steep price. A word of caution: the salty yolk in the middle, representing the full moon, is an acquired taste.

More elaborate versions of mooncakes contain four egg yolks (representing the four phases of the moon). Besides lotus seed paste, other traditional fillings include red bean paste and black bean paste. Unfortunately for dieters, mooncakes are rather high in calories.

While in the past mooncakes took up to four weeks to make, automation has speeded up the process considerably. Today, mooncakes may be filled with everything from dates, nuts, and fruit to Chinese sausages. More exotic creations include green tea mooncakes, and ping pei or snowskin mooncakes, a Southeast Asian variation made with cooked glutinous rice flour. Haagen-Daz has even gotten into the act by introducing a line of ice cream mooncakes in Asian markets.

Given the difficulty of making them, most people prefer to purchase their mooncakes instead of making their own. You'll find them at Asian bakeries beginning around mid-August.


Libby said...

nea-this really sounds like something you'd make!

Akelamalu said...

That was really interesting Nea, thank you. x

Elween said...

hey not bad, you really have a hand on this. we celebrated mid-autumn festival too here.i will post on how we celebrated soon. anyway, have you ever tasted a mooncake? :)

Nea said...

HI Libby, no I don't make delicate of work for me. But I enjoy eating them.

Your welcome Akela.....I find the history of cultures, fascinnting.

Hi Elween, I would love to read how you celebrated the festival. When i lived in Garden Grove, I ate mooncake with my daughter in laws family. But that was over seven years ago. Here I do not even know where to buy one.

Catch said...

Ive never had a mooncake but it does look quite tasty! Very interesting Nea! Thank you

Nea said...

Hi Catch, I like them, although I think many foods are an acquired taste. Since my daughter in law was half Chinese and half Vietnamese, we got to try many things that I would never have gotten to taste otherwise. I remember a dessert they made with red beans, green beans and coconut milk over ice, I loved it. It breaks my heart that I will no doubt never eat it again. I can't even remember what it was called. There was also a little pork pastry, with an egg cooked in the middle, covered with a sweet dough, called bánh giò ......loved those also.