23 September 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival | Mooncakes


Yesterday was the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節).  It was the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar.  On this day, the moon is supposedly at its roundest and brightest.  But we had been having some rain and we didn’t see the moon last night.

Traditionally, people buy, eat, and gift each other with mooncakes in celebration of the festival.  One usually buys them from bakeries… and they come in square tins of four.

Neither Chris nor I are fond of mooncakes, but surprisingly both Josh and Zoë love mooncakes.  They first got a taste of the delicacy as a snack in their school.  This year, HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) gave away boxes of mooncakes and even got the bakery to put the HSBC name on the mooncake itself (see picture below).  Talk about opportunistic marketing.  I thought that was pretty cool, even though I don’t eat mooncakes.


Traditionally, the mooncake filling is made with lotus seed paste, “considered by some to be the original and most luxurious mooncake filling.” According to the Wiki article about mooncakes.

Here is a cross-section of a double-yolk mooncake, one of the premium mooncakes.  The yolk symbolizes the moon.


Are mooncakes yummy?  I guess they are.  I know quite a number of my friends who LOVE mooncakes and one of them could even consume an entire tin of four mooncakes all by herself!

Here’s an interesting folk tale (from same Wiki article) about the significance of mooncakes… at least during the Ming Revolution:

Mooncakes were used as a medium by the Ming revolutionaries in their espionage effort to secretly distribute letters in order to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of China in the Yuan dynasty. The idea is said to be conceived by Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋) and his advisor Liu Bowen (劉伯溫), who circulated a rumor that a deadly plague was spreading and the only way to prevent it was to eat special mooncakes. This prompted the quick distribution of mooncakes, which were used to hide a secret message coordinating the Han Chinese revolt on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.

Another method of hiding the message was printed in the surface of mooncakes as a simple puzzle or mosaic. In order to read the encrypted message, each of the four mooncakes packaged together must be cut into four parts each. The 16 pieces of mooncake, must then be pieced together in such a fashion that the secret messages can be read. The pieces of mooncake are then eaten to destroy the message.


Have you tried mooncakes before?  Would you try them if you were served or offered some?

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