Like pumpkin pies are eaten at Thanksgiving, mooncakes are eaten at the Mid-Autumn Festival, a festival celebrated in many parts of Asia and especially by Chinese diaspora all over in the world. In America, one can buy mooncakes not only in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese grocery stores but even at some Costco warehouses in major cities!
Mooncakes are rich, thick cakes with a pie crust like thin wrapping over popular Asian sweet stuffings such as mashed lotus seeds, five nuts combination, or red bean paste—and oh yes, whole lightly salted egg yolks—the more, the merrier. These sweet and salty treats are best enjoyed with a cup of black tea such as our Imperial Golden Monkey or Keeman Hao Ya. Oolong teas such as our Organic Wuyi Oolong or Organic Imperial Wuyi Da Hong Pao are also good choices, as is our 2104 Xiao Husai Pu Erh. These teas are believed to be fat-burning and good for digestion, and therefore, great for rich foods like mooncake.
Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the lunar year—when the moon is supposed to be brightest and fullest. This year, it fell on Monday, September 24th. For the Chinese, the moon is a symbol of parting and togetherness. Like the Thanksgiving holiday in America, family members try to get together; therefore the cultural association for this festival is often along the theme of longing for home or missing loved ones.
A famous Chinese verse popular since the tenth century is:
People experience sorrow and joy, parting and uniting
The moon faces shadow and sunshine, waning and waxing
Chinese myths believe that there are two people on the moon. First, there is Chang-e, the wife of the ancient hero who saved the world from scotching heat by shooting down nine redundant suns and was rewarded with a potion for eternal life. When the Evil One came to steal the potion, Chang-e swallowed the potion in her haste to keep it from him. She was taken to the moon, forever living and separated from her husband. He could only long for her and watch her shadow on the full moon. When she left, she had her pet rabbit with her which was taken to the moon and is known as the jade rabbit.
The other person whose shadow can be seen is Wu Gang who was banished to the moon for his sins. His punishment is to cut down a giant cassia tree 5000 feet tall. Unfortunately for him, this tree grows back after each chop and thus he can never finish his job.
The mid-autumn festival is however a happy festival. People exchange gifts of mooncakes; children are given toys in the form of rabbits. My own memories of Mid-Autumn festivals were of making lanterns with bamboo twigs, paper, color and linseed oil—some in the shape of a rabbit, a fish, a star, or a starfruit. In the evening these lanterns would be lit with candles and hung outside our house or paraded along the streets. Sometimes there were competitions; other times my father would take us to see lanterns for sale at the fair and occasionally, we might be lucky enough to even buy one.
This year, however, the Mid-Autumn Festival was somewhat disappointing to me because it fell on a misty night and I could see no sign of the moon regardless of whatever direction I looked. Instead, I consoled myself by indulging on mooncake and a pot of rich black tea.