Mooncakes and the Chinese Moon Festival
This entry was posted on July 30, 2010.
Mooncakes are traditional Chinese delicacies that are shared among close friends or family. They are considered a food too tasty to turn down, and are eaten around the festival of the moon, which is sort of the Asian version of America's Thanksgiving. The treats are so popular that many other countries in Asia celebrate the moon festival, eat mooncakes, and have done so for thousands of years.
Mooncakes are generally very dense and sweet tasting. They come with fantastic decorations, ranging from the tradition to the outlandish. They have a thin coating on the exterior of the treat, which has the Chinese characters for "longevity" or "harmony" carved into the top. In addition to this they have the name of the bakery where they come from as well as the images of a rabbit and a beautiful woman. The images of the woman the rabbit are frequently associated with this tasty treat, and relate to the myth of their origins.
Mooncakes are now back in stock here at Asian Food Grocer; they can be seen in our Mooncake's Category. Right now we have several FREE GIFTS to give away with mooncake purchases. There is a large metallic red thermace, and a medium sized coffee cup, and also a handy, eco-bag for shopping. The cool thing about this bag is that it folds and snaps down to the size of a wallet, making it perfect for traveling. Come see al the different varieties of cakes, and the beautiful collectable packaging they come in.
Chang'e and her husband, Houyi, were cast down from the sky to live as mortals on earth. This was a punishment from the Jade Emperor, who was the ruler of heaven, earth, and hell. 10 of the emperor's children had become suns, and were destroying the Earth with their immense heat and so Houyi shot down 9 of them with his bow and arrow, thereby saving earth, but it came at the cost of mortality. Not wanting to accept their fate, the husband and wife sought out a way to regain their immortality. Houyi went out and found the Queen mother of the West, who offered a pill that would give them both their immortality back. He was instructed to eat half of it, and give the other half to wife. When he returned home, he gave his wife the same warning, but he was called away before the two could eat the pill. While he was gone Chang'e looked at the pill, and she became startled when her husband returned home and accidentally swallowed the whole thing.
This overdose of immortality caused her to float up and up, beyond Houyi's reach, until she landed on the moon. There she found a rabbit already on the celestial body. She is said to still exist there today, and for centuries, people have been worshipping her in hopes of receiving her blessing for beauty and fertile crops.
While the legend surrounding the mooncake is fascinating, the reality of its purpose in Chinese history may be just as good a tale. The treat was used as a method of communication when the Chinese were under rule of invading Mongolians. Ming revolutionaries wanted to overthrow their foreign dictators, but they couldn't communicate because the Mongolians would cut down any message carried. So they spread the rumor of a dangerous plague whose cure was mooncakes. This allowed for a massive influx of mooncakes, and the Chinese hid their battle plans within the mooncakes and went unnoticed. This spread the word of a planned overthrow on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. The overthrow worked, and its day was celebrated ever since, not just for the lunar festival, but for the celebration of independence.
While the Chinese have the history of their mooncake set in blood and legend, those same treats and festivals are just as important to other cultures, like the Japanese. While festivals celebrating the moon have existed in China for the last 3000 years, festivals in Japan that celebrate the moon have been suggested to date back as far as 14,000 BC, to the Jomon period, one of the earliest known occurrences of human tool usage and pottery building. The Moon festivals in Japan are called Tsukimi. The word Tsukumi refers to the tradition of holding parties beneath a harvest moon. This custom is said to have begun about a thousand years ago, during the Heian period, among aristocrats.
Much like the Chinese, the Japanese have specific foods that tailor to their moon festival. Mooncakes are big there too, but so are boiled soba or udon noodles, as well as Tsukimi Dangos, which are dumplings made with rice flour. The tradition has continued to evolve today, and among fast food restaurants they serve Tsukumi burgers, which is a sandwich with a fried egg that is supposed symbolize the full moon.
CONTEMPORARY MOON FESTIVAL
Today, the moon festival has become a worldwide phenomenon spreading outside of Asia, as far as Australia, Europe and San Francisco. All over the world, parades will fill the streets this September, and families will meet with one another to play with lanterns, watch Lion dancers, marching bands, ribbon dancers, acrobats and even martial artists. Lovers will hold hands. Children will eat candy. And as everyone munches on their mooncakes and other traditional Asian treats, they will all gaze up at the moon in awe.