Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival: What are mooncakes and why is it traditional to eat them?

24th Sep 18 | Lifestyle

As the seasonal holiday kicks off, here's what you need to know about the celebratory sweet treats.

Mid autumn festival food and drink.

Today marks the beginning of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, a harvest tradition that sees people across Asia celebrate the first full moon of autumn.

And how better to do that, other than head outside to stare at the golden moon with your friends and family and light lanterns? Eat cake, of course. Preferably, mooncakes.

What are mooncakes?
The baked good of choice for honouring the Mid-Autumn Festival, technically mooncakes aren’t even really cake. In fact, they’re pastries – you could even argue they’re mini pies. Sweet and round, they have a thin, short golden crust which conceals a dense filling (they’re usually baked but can be steamed too).

What are they filled with?
The most traditional fillings are red bean and lotus seed paste, and contain whole salted duck egg yolks – the yellow yolks representative of the harvest moon.

‘Five kernel’ mooncakes feature five different chopped nuts and seeds and you can get savoury meat ones too, while  ‘snow skin’ mooncakes (which originate from a bakery in Hong Kong but are now widely eaten) are also popular and considered a lighter alternative.

They have a glutinous white rice crust rather than pastry, and aren’t baked (you just defrost and eat). Plus, instead of sweet bean pastes, snow skin mooncakes are often stuffed with fruits, coffee, green tea, ice cream and jam.

How are they decorated?
The roundness of mooncakes is said to symbolise completeness and togetherness, as well as to mimic the shape of the full moon, while they’re often intricately designed with Chinese characters and delicate patterns.

Apparently, during the 14th century, in an effort to overthrow the Mongolian empire in China, mooncakes were used to distribute secret messages and help trigger uprisings too…

How are they eaten?
It is usual to cut them up and serve them with copious amounts of tea. Beautiful boxes of them are also given as gifts.

© Press Association 2018