Text by Joanna Yeo @ Makansutra
Mid-Autumn festival, on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, is an important annual event celebrated by many Asian countries, like China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Korea and Singapore. In some these countries, Mid-Autumn festival is more than just eating mooncakes and parading the streets with lanterns. We share with you the various Asian food traditions.
Novelty mooncakes steal the limelight in Singapore
In Singapore, the traditional baked brown-skinned mooncakes have evolved into a wide selection of novelty mooncakes types: ice-cream, cartoon-themed, agar-agar and those with special fillings like bird’s nest and even truffle chocolate versions. Very often the elaborate package cost more than the mooncakes itself. Like most Chinese traditions, these mooncakes are usually given as gifts to business clients and relatives as well as eaten at home with the family and friends.
Mid-Autumn Festival is Taiwan's national BBQ day (Image courtesy of Shangrila Leisure Farm)
A nationwide BBQ event in Taiwan
Mid-Autumn festival or ‘Zhong Qiu Jie’ (in Mandarin) is regarded as one of the three biggest celebrations in Taiwan, together with Chinese New Year and Dragon Boat Festival. On this day, most Taiwanese will get together with their friends for a night of barbecue feast. “It is usually difficult to arrange a common time to meet up with friends,” says Alex Cheng, a native Taiwanese from Taipei. But during this Taiwan-declared public holiday, everyone will have a “common free time” to meet and catch up with each other over barbecue.
He adds on that during this festival, most barbecue restaurants in Taiwan will be fully booked.
In Taiwan, it is “very important to personally gift-pack mooncakes to business associates.” Alex says that mooncake gift boxes no longer consist mooncakes alone. Other pastries like ‘luo buo si bing’ (radish pastry) and ‘gui yuan dan gao’ (longan cake) are also included to up the warmth of the festival.
Diverse Mid-Autumn food traditions in China
In China, the traditional dishes prepared during Mid-Autumn Festival are diverse and distinct across the different regions. Apart from the most traditional festive food, which is mooncakes, most provinces have their own seasonal, local dishes and snacks just for this festival.
Duck dishes are commonly served on dinner tables, as they are especially rich in flavour during this season. According to a news report by The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid, different regions of the country have different cooking methods to bring out the flavours of the duck. In the Jiangsu province, the speciality is the Osmanthus Flower Duck. Osmanthus wine is also a popular favourite when the flowers are in full bloom during this period. In contrast, Sichuan province features smoked duck during this period.
In Guangzhou, river snails are a must-have dish on the dinner table. These are cooked with medicinal herbs to remove the snails’odour.In areas around the south of the Yangtze River, people follow a tradition of eating pumpkins.
Children’s festival in Vietnam
In Vietnam, Mid-Autumn Festival or ‘TetTrung Thu (full moon festival) is a day likened to that of Children’s day. “In the past, children will celebrate by singing and parading lanterns with other neighbour’s kids in the alley and around the neighbourhood. Nowadays, it is usually celebrated with families and relatives over traditional mooncakes and tea,” says Roy Nguyen, a native Vietnamese. Like most cultures, mooncakes are also given as gifts to business partners in Vietnam.
Songpyeon rice cake (Image courtesy of Korea Tourism Organisation)
A major harvest festival in Korea
Like in Taiwan, Chuseok, a day for Thanksgiving in Korea, is one of the country’s three most important celebrations. Three consecutive days are declared as public holidays for this major harvest festival. Also known as Hangawi (‘the ides of August’), it is an important event where family members give thanks to their ancestors for a plentiful harvest.
In celebration of an abundant harvest, the newly harvested grains are used to make steamed rice, rice cakes and liquor. Songpyeon, moon-shaped rice cakes stuffed with sesame seeds, beans or chestnuts, is a staple dish of Chuseok. Made by the entire family during the eve of Chuseok, it is believed that women who can make the most beautiful Songpyeon will marry a good man.
Traditional liquor, Baekju (white wine) is also drunk during this festive season.