It’s that time of year again, where a full moon rises in a clear night sky and families gather around to eat delicious mooncakes. When I was living at home, I always knew when the Mid-Autumn Festival was around the corner because my grandma would come home from the Asian supermarket with fancy looking tins of packaged mooncakes. I would hungrily search through the tin, wondering which cakes had my favorite fillings, ready to dig in.
The mooncake (月饼) is a traditional pastry served during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节). For over three thousand years, this holiday has celebrated the moon, the moon goddess Chang’e and the bountiful autumn harvest that she brings. Occurring on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, it will fall on Tuesday, Sept. 21 this year.
Mooncakes come with all different types of crusts and fillings, but at its core, it’s a small, circular pastry with a dense, chewy filling and wrapped in a thin, flaky crust. While most types of crusts are baked, snow skin mooncakes are wrapped in a white crust that does not require baking. Almost always, mooncakes are pressed into a mold, leaving an imprint of an aesthetic design or Chinese characters on the top depicting well wishes or the bakery where it was made. It’s almost a shame to have to cut into a cake and dismantle the beautiful engraving on top.
Mooncakes are most commonly filled with red bean or white lotus seed paste, giving it a savory and rich, nutty flavor. Other possible fillings include mixed nuts, green tea, fruits or really anything you want. My personal favorite is a pineapple jam-like filling, something I sadly haven’t been able to find in Ithaca.
Traditionally, a salted duck egg yolk will be placed in the middle of a lotus seed mooncake, so when it’s cut in half, the cross-section will resemble a bright yellow moon against a dark night sky; sometimes, two or even three egg yolks will be baked into the mooncake. The flavor of the crumbly yolks add a bold saltiness to balance out the richness of the filling.
Even though mooncakes are very small, they’re meant to be shared amongst family and friends to celebrate the holiday. Traditional mooncakes are often extremely dense and filling, so the cakes are cut into small slices and shared, usually to be enjoyed with tea. Mooncakes are regularly gifted around the holiday time and packaged in intricately designed tins that seemingly get fancier and fancier each year.
If you’re wondering how to get your hands on some mooncakes this year, then you’re in luck. Basically every Asian supermarket or grocery store has them in stock right now, including Green Castle Asian Market, Ren’s Mart, Ithaca Tofu and WinLi Supermarket. I recently visited Green Castle in Collegetown and found they had white lotus seed paste mooncakes, both with and without an egg yolk, as well as ones with red bean filling.
In terms of on-campus events, the Chinese Students Association is hosting a Mid-Autumn Festival celebration on Ho Plaza on Oct. 1. All night long, there will be booths and performances, along with food, drinks and, of course, mooncakes.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! 中秋节快乐！
Margaret Chan is a senior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected].