Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, aka time to eat mooncake

Growing up, I had no idea what Mid-Autumn Moon Festival was, but I did know that at around the same time of year every autumn, I could expect to eat moon cakes. Around September of every year, my grandma would buy boxes and boxes of Cantonese style moon cakes as gifts for family and friends. In return, we (surprise surprise) also received endless boxes of moon cakes, as well. I never understood the cultural importance of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival then. I just enjoyed eating the moon cakes. Since our family is Cantonese, I was really only ever exposed to Cantonese style mooncakes at home. It wasn’t until I was in college when I realized that there are many regional differences across not only China, but different parts of Asia, for mooncakes. Just a couple weeks ago, I finally had Thai style moon cakes, which are really more like mini round flaky pastries with a filling. And apparently, Shanghainese moon cakes are similar to these Thai ones, as well! I feel like I’m always learning new things about my culture and variations of the food I grew up eating.

It wasn’t until college that I officially learned what “Mid-Autumn Moon Festival” even was. Historically, the festival marked the time of the year, in autumn, when families would gather to enjoy the fruitful reaping of rice and wheat, and they would mark this with food offerings made in honor of the moon. The day that Mid-Autumn Moon Festival falls is always an evening of a full moon. So today, families will typically gather and have a delicious feast. And at some point of the day, they will cut moon cakes into small pieces and eat them together with tea. The moon is a symbol of harmony and unity, and so it’s considered auspicious to eat moon cake during this time of year. Moon cakes are always round, just like the moon (not unique, but you get the idea). Families eating moon cake during the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is basically signifying that their family is unified and complete.

Since my grandma died, our family never really did anything for Mid-Autumn Moon Festival other than buy moon cakes around the same time each year. But I would like for Kaia to understand the cultural significance of these Chinese holidays since they are part of her culture. This year, for the first time, I actually went down to Chinatown specifically to buy moon cakes, specifically ones that I special ordered via email from Kopitiam, a Malaysian cafe/restaurant that was making snow moon cakes based on demand. I ordered five: two durian, one taro, one black sesame, and one white lotus seed paste (the last one is the most traditional Cantonese filling, and my favorite one growing up that I was exposed to).

Snow moon cakes, in the last several years (as long as I am aware), have become all the rage during Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. They’re basically like the modernized version of moon cakes: they have the same round shape, the same beautiful molds, but instead of a shortening or butter-based crust on the outside, snow moon cakes have a “shell” that is made of mochi or glutinous rice flour. They are instant eye candy and are just stunning to look at. And the moon cakes that are being made by places like Kopitiam — you know for a fact that they’re not taking any shortcuts or using artificial anything. I cut two, the durian and the taro, and Chris and I shared them. I offered a bite to Kaia given the holiday, though I’d normally never give her anything with added sugar. Initially, she seemed intrigued, but when she got close enough and watched us eat, she said she didn’t want any. It’s okay: I still want her exposed to these things, and at some point one day, she will be tempted.

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