I have to say one of the best things about being an American expat living in Shanghai is being able to enjoy both Chinese and American holidays. Like many holidays around the world, Chinese holidays are focused around tradition, getting together with family and friends and having a big feast. It’s also an added bonus that many holidays here are celebrated over the course of several days and some times even up to a full week.
Tomorrow is the official day of Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday held every year on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. This day is also known as the Moon Festival, as the moon is at its roundest and brightest on this day of the year and provides farmers extra light to harvest their crops. The holiday is best compared to Thanksgiving in the US as it is also a celebration of the harvest. Many neighboring countries across Asia celebrate this holiday in different ways, but in China eating mooncakes and moon gazing after a family gathering is a cherished tradition.
Mooncakes are typically round pastries filled with red bean or lotus seed paste. Some varieties contain yolks from salted duck eggs to symbolize the full moon. The outside of the pastry is often beautifully designed. Some bear the inscription of the Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony,” while others feature carved designs of flowers, vines, the moon, Lady Chang’e on the moon or a rabbit (which was featured prominently in ancient stories about the moon).
Leading up to this holiday, mooncakes are seen and sold in many places. Upscale hotels such as the Ritz Carlton are especially popular places to order and buy mooncakes, as the branding and luxurious packaging make very attractive gifts.
This year my husband’s company gave us mooncakes from Andaz, a boutique luxury hotel that is part of the Hyatt group. The packaging was quite pretty so I thought I’d share. I loved the vibrant colors and how they incorporated different phases of the moon into the box design.
Most of the flavors in this box were pretty traditional: jujube (dates), white lotus with egg yolk, five kernel (mixed nuts), red bean and green bean. However, the coconut flavor was quite interesting as it’s not a traditional mooncake flavor. These days you’ll often see a more modern take on mooncakes where just about anything that can be made into a paste or filling could be a possibility. There are even ice cream and custard-filled mooncakes!
Each mooncake was individually wrapped, placed in its own protective tin and enclosed with a cute label indicating the flavor. If you’ve never had a mooncake the ones with the egg yolk are probably hard to imagine so I thought I’d cut one open.
When you take it out, you can immediately tell this has a more savory flavor. The white lotus paste with egg yolk is a salty sweet combo.
Mooncakes are meant for sharing and are usually cut into bite size pieces. They aren’t that large in size but are quite heavy and filling. They are often served with tea.
The egg filled mooncake is one of the most traditional flavors but I was eager to try the coconut flavor as it is more contemporary and unique.
Mooncakes have been around for several hundreds of years and there have been countless variations of stories and legends that surround the history of this pastry. Although its origins may not be truly known, I think the most important part is knowing the true meaning of the holiday is spending time with family and friends, and nothing beats doing that over a great meal and delicious dessert.