Mooncakes are a popular pastry and big business throughout many Asian countries during the Mid-Autumn Festival which falls in either late September or early October. The Mid-Autumn Festival is closely tied to the lunar cycle and is always on the full moon of the eighth lunar month.
In Chinese mooncakes are known as “yue bing” and are eaten in the millions at family reunions, dinners with friends, or feasts, they are also a popular gift for friends and family.
Traditional Chinese mooncakes consist of a sweet paste filling surrounded by pastry. The typical filling consists of lotus or red bean paste, which can also be made more interesting by adding other ingredients such as salted duck egg yolks or nuts.
There are several interesting facts about one of Asia’s most popular treats available only once a year and only in certain countries. For those wanting to learn more about mooncakes and discover what makes them so famous, popular and unique here is a more detailed list.
You Can Find Them All Around Asia
Mooncakes are not exclusive to China as over thousands of years the Chinese influence and culture spread throughout Asia leading to the adoption of similar religious practices, festivals and traditions, and food. It is possible to find mooncakes all over Asia so if you are looking for the best Durian Mooncake in Singapore 2021 for example, the search shouldn’t be too hard. Leading up to and during the Mid-Autumn Festival mooncakes are eaten by millions of people in Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam as well as by Chinese communities around the world.
There Are Many Varieties of Mooncake
The variety of Chinese mooncakes most often sold is the Catonese style mooncake, which is decorated with Chinese characters wishing well for the coming year. The fillings commonly used are a dense lotus or red bean paste, whilst other ingredients are regularly added such as nuts, seeds, fruit, ham, or pork.
Although the Cantonese-style mooncake is the most widely-eaten, even inside China almost every region has its own take on mooncakes. For example, Suzhou mooncakes are a savory variety with a crispy and flaky pastry filled with seasoned pork. Other famous Chinese variations of mooncakes originate in places such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Yunnan.
Mooncake crust comes in two different types, sticky or baked. A baked crust is light brown, shiny and soft, and uses ingredients of wheat flour, egg, oil, and baking soda. A sticky crust is often white, smooth, and moister, the ingredients are slightly different as the recipe uses glutinous rice flour instead.
They Were First Recorded Over 1000 Years Ago
The earliest record of mooncakes in written history can be found during the Song Dynasty in the 10th century, however, they are believed to have been around for a long time before that.
The history of mooncakes is rooted in the legend of Hou Yi and the goddess Chang’e. The famous Chinese tale tells of how Hou Yi an expert archer saved the world from annihilation by shooting down nine out of the ten suns in the sky which were scorching Earth. The Emperor then rewarded Hou Yi with a potion of immortality, however, the story goes that a thief tried to steal the potion, and to prevent them from doing so Hou Yi’s wife Chang’e drank the potion.
As a result of drinking the potion, Chang’e transformed into an immortal, rose to the Lunar Palace, and became a goddess. In remembrance of his wife, who Hou Yi could no longer meet, he would leave cakes beneath the full moon, thus starting the tradition of eating mooncakes at the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Mooncakes Symbolize Reunion and Prosperity
Aside from their meanings found in legend, the roundness of mooncakes also symbolizes family reunion, prosperity, and happiness, and Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important times of the year for people to spend time with their relatives.
Nowadays, it is also a common tradition for businesses to send gifts of mooncakes to each other and their employees to symbolize the reinforcement of partnerships and emphasize togetherness and shared prosperity in the year ahead. Therefore, many businesses will even reserve a budget for Mid-Autumn Festival gifts including boxes of mooncakes.
They Are Always Ornately Decorated and Packaged
Almost every mooncake is decorated with a pattern on the crust often with Chinese characters and motifs impressed into the pastry using a mold. More expensive versions of mooncakes have much more intricate designs and higher-end ingredients. The trend of giving mooncakes in beautifully packaged gift sets has also been around for a while in Asia, with a huge variety of mooncakes available to try.
Mooncake Is Often Paired With Tea
Certain foods are famously paired with particular drinks such as wine and steak pairings, as their flavors complement each other. Mooncakes are no different, their dense texture and sweetness mean that they are traditionally paired with a range of teas to provide a balance to the richness of a mooncake’s pastry and filling. For some ideas of which teas suit different varieties of mooncake, here are a few popular pairings:
- Red bean mooncakes – oolong tea
- Snow skin mooncakes – any fruity tea
- Mung bean mooncake – jasmine tea
They Can Contain Up To 1000 Calories
Due to the rich fillings of either fruit, nuts, or meat and the sweet baked or fried pastry of mooncakes they cannot be considered a healthy food. The ingredients in the recipe include quite a lot of sugar and salt in addition to the almost one thousand calories per mooncake.
That being said, the snow skin version of mooncakes is considered to contain much fewer calories. Furthermore, contemporary recipes are focusing on using less salt, sugar, and oil.
Mooncakes Should Be Shared
The traditional way to eat a mooncake is by cutting it up into slices and sharing it with your friends or family. The ritual of sharing a mooncake symbolizes unity and prosperity.
When mooncakes are shared, they are cut into eight pieces and shared around. For some, it is a tradition to put messages in the mooncakes which then have to be pieced back together to be read.
Mooncakes are an important tradition in Asia during the Mid-Autumn Festival when many families come together to celebrate a time of reunion, happiness, and prosperity. Mooncakes have a rich and interesting history and are well worth a try if you haven’t already.