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Culinary traditions for Mid-Autumn Festival

Source: Changjiang Weekly 09/05/2016 10:09:03

The Mid-Autumn Festival, one of China's most important traditional festivals, will fall on September 15 this year. As the Mid-Autumn Festival is only a week away, people here in Wuhan are already gearing up for this special holiday. This article will introduce some holiday foods and some interesting twists on a few festival traditions.

Moon cakes

In China, the tradition of worshipping the moon can be traced back to the ancient Xia and Shang dynasties (2000 B.C. - 1066 B.C.). This later evolved into moon appreciation. To celebrate the festival, people spend time appreciating the full moon with family, eating moon cakes, and drinking osmanthus wine.

Eating moon cakes is one of the most well-known Mid-Autumn Festival traditions. Because moon cakes are extremely popular, many people affectionately call the Mid-Autumn Festival the Moon Cake Festival.

Eating moon cakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival is a tradition associated with the Han rebellion against the Mongols towards the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1280 - 1368). During the Mid-Autumn Festival, Chinese people used moon cakes to conceal messages related to the organization of the uprising. In Chinese culture, circles symbolize unity. As the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time when Chinese people gather together with friends and family, round moon cakes are a perfect snack, for they symbolize togetherness, connectedness, and family unity.

Typically, moon cakes are made by filling a semi-soft pastry with sweet fillings. Classic moon cakes are those filled with lotus seed paste and a cooked salted egg yolk. Just like Chinese dumplings and zongzi, the fillings for moon cakes vary from place to place. For example, in Shanghai, people like to stuff minced pork into puff pastries. It is not uncommon to see people waiting in line outside renowned pastry shops for hours for hot-out-of-the-oven pork moon cakes. In the southern provinces, moon cakes are sweet and significantly less greasy; fillings include bean paste, taro, and various other ingredients.

Nowadays, there are many different types of moon cakes available. Moon cakes start showing up in stores about one to two months before the arrival of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Chinese people like foods which mix traditions with a touch of modern innovation. For instance, custard moon cakes have become extremely popular among members of the younger generations this year.

Custard moon cakes are prepared using traditional moon cake techniques; the only real difference is that they are stuffed with flowy custard. Bakers also like to add crushed salted egg yolk to the mix to create a sweet and savory filling. The salted egg yolk mixes with the custard to create a more complicated texture. Most custard moon cakes are made in Hong Kong; however, local residents can find them at high-end supermarkets in Wuhan, places like Ole on Han Street.

Other innovative moon cakes include ice cream moon cakes, which can be purchased at Haagen Dazs, and chocolate moon cakes tailor-made for Chinese people by Pierre Herme, a famous French pastry brand.

Osmanthus wine

Osmanthus wine is a traditional drink which goes great with moon cakes. Drinking osmanthus wine is a Chinese tradition with a long history. Chinese people started drinking this kind of wine around 2,300 years ago during the Warring State Period. Osmanthus wine is mentioned in Songs of Chu, a famous anthology of Chinese poetry.

Osmanthus trees and the fragrance of the flowers are common in Chinese legends, particularly those related to the moon. The most famous legends are those of Chang E, her pet, a jade rabbit, and a giant named Wu Gang, who was tasked with chopping down an indestructible osmanthus tree on the moon. For this reason, osmanthus wine is a perfectly suitable beverage for the Mid-Autumn Festival, a festival for lunar appreciation.

Osmanthus wine is also a symbol of togetherness; it is also believed that people who drink osmanthus wine will enjoy a long and happy life. The flowers of the osmanthus trees will bloom during the Mid-Autumn Festival; they are beautiful and exceptionally fragrant.

Changbu Street in Xinzhou is famous for its osmanthus trees. There are dozens of farms in this area which produce osmanthus wine; some farms even allow visitors to check out the processing facilities. If you want to try this kind of wine in downtown Wuhan, you should visit Taohuazui, a well-known Chinese bistro which serves wine fermented with osmanthus flowers. This bistro is located just a few steps from Exit D of Jiyuqiao Metro Station.

Pumpkins

Eating pumpkin during the Mid-Autumn Festival is popular among Chinese people who live south of the Yangtze River. In ages past, people in these regions ate pumpkin because they couldn't afford moon cakes. Even though these regions are much more prosperous now, the tradition remains. People believe that pumpkins can bring good health, so they give them as gifts.