Monday, 8 September 2014

Mid-Autumn Festival 2014

The Mid-Autumn Festival is the ideal moment to soak up in Chinese Festivities and tasting the succulent Chinese food!

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important festival in the Chinese Culture, celebrated in every Chinese place, all over the world.

Th mid-autumn festival is an harvest festival, feasting in family and in public is part of the tradition. Moon Worshiping is also traditionally attached to this festival as the ancient Chinese believed in rejuvenation being associated with the moon and water. And mooncakes and lanterns will be the most visible elements of this month-long celebration.

The main events of this festival will be: nightly stage shows, festival street Bazaar, dragon dance performances, cultural songs and the famous street light-up : the Chinatown area will be the host of thousand of little lanterns of varying shapes, sizes and colors.

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Mid-Autumn Festival

2014 Mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 8th. The holiday lasts from September 6th to 8th. Due to the pleasant autumn weather this is a peak time for travel. Welcome to China and explore the traditional folk customs of this interesting festival!

Falling on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second grandest festival after the Spring Festival in China. It takes its name from the fact that it is always celebrated in the middle of the autumn season. The day is also known as the Moon Festival, as at that time of the year the moon is at its roundest and brightest.

On the festival day, family members gather to offer sacrifice to the moon, appreciate the bright full moon, eat moon cakes, and express strong yearnings toward family members and friends who live afar. In addition, there are some other customs like playing lanterns, and dragon and lion dances in some regions. The unique customs of ethnic minorities are interesting as well, such as “chasing the moon” of Mongolians, and “steal vegetables or fruits” of the Dong people.

The Moon Cake is the special food of Mid-Autumn Festival. On that day, people sacrifice moon cakes to the moon as an offering and eat them for celebration. Moon cakes come in various flavors according to the region. The moon cakes are round, symbolizing the reunion of a family, so it is easy to understand how the eating of moon cakes under the round moon can evoke longing for distant relatives and friends. Nowadays, people present moon cakes to relatives and friends to demonstrate that they wish them a long and happy life.

Moon Cake

As with every Chinese festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival has its own special food – moon cake. It is a kind of cookie with various fillings and different artistic patterns on the surface depicting the legends of the festival. Generally, it is round, as the Mid- Autumn Festival is a time for family reunion, and “round” has a similar pronunciation with “reunion” in Chinese. During the festival, people sacrifice these cookies to the moon as offerings, eat them for celebration and present them to relatives and friends for good wishes.

History - As early as the Shang (17th century BC - 1046 BC) andZhou (1046 - 256 BC) dynasties in what today are Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, there was a kind of “grand preceptor cookie” thick at the center and thin at the edge, which was the “first ancestor” of the moon cake. In the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), sesame and walnuts were introduced into China, and round cookies filled with these ingredients appeared. In the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), the name “moon cake” was used for the first time and gradually became well-known nationwide. It was not until the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD) that the custom of eating these cookies during the Mid-Autumn Festival formed. It was also during this period that the cookie makers printed the famous story “Chang E’s Flying to the Moon” on the moon cake, which made the cookie much more popular among common people and gradually a must for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Types and Features - Traditionally, moon cakes are divided into four types: Guangdong-style, Suzhou-style, Beijing-style and Yunnan-style, and the fillings are usually five kernels, lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, jujube paste, and egg yolk. Nowadays, more and more ingredients are used in making moon cakes and they are classified into various types based on places of origin, flavors, fillings, crust and shapes. Here below are some of the most popular ones.

Beijing-Style: Claiming origin from Beijing, Tianjin and surrounding areas, it is representative of northern moon cakes. One of the main features is the great balance between crust and fillings; makers use lots of sesame oil. It tastes crispy outside, soft inside and not too sweet as a whole.

Suzhou-Style: Having its beginning in Suzhou area, its highlight is the soft crust. It tastes sweeter than other types.

Guangzhou-Style: Originated from Guangzhou, the main features are a thin crust and rich fillings. The fillings are mostly local products like coconut shreds, olive seeds, orange cakes, Guangzhou-style sausage and roasted pork, salted eggs and sweetened fat meat, etc.

Yunnan-Style: Originated and popular in the Yunnan and Guizhou area, the main feature is Yunnan-style sausage in the fillings. Its crust is loose and soft and the fillings are neither too salty nor too sweet.

Huizhou-Style: Huizhou here refers to modern-day Huangshan City and Jixi County in Anhui Province, and Wuyuan County in Jiangxi Province. This style of cookie is small, delicate and white as polished jade. The crust is made from wheat flour and vegetable oil, and the fillings consist of edible wild vegetables, fresh lard, sugar, etc.

Quzhou-Style: It is a local product of Quzhou city in Zhejiang Province. One of its main ingredients is sesame, so it is also called “Quzhou Sesame Cookie”.

Chaozhou-Style: Originally a local product of Chaozhou city in Guangdong province, it has a thin crust with a spiral-shaped pattern and tastes delicious and soft. Lard is one of its major ingredients.

Bamboo Charcoal Moon Cakes: This is a kind of new-style cake in recent years. As indicated by its name, edible bamboo charcoal is used during the cooking process, usually in the crust. So they are generally black. This kind of cookie is low-sugar, low-fat, low calorie and non-greasy. They also help clear away poison and fat, relieve constipation and supply minerals.

In addition, there are many other types of moon cakes such as Taiwan-style and Hong Kong-style. Also, more types have been created in recent years, such as sugar-free, ice cream, tea, fruit, vegetable, vegetarian, flower, coarse cereals and edible fungi moon cakes for the needs of different people.

Tips: Eating - Moon cakes are usually oily, so a cup of tea is a perfect "mate”. Generally, oolong is the best choice for salty ones and flower tea for sweet ones.

Although these cookies are delicious and bring nutrition to the human body, some people , such as diabetics, over-weight people, kids and seniors, should not eat too many or avoid them completely. They are high-calorie food containing not only much oil, but also sugar or salt.

  • Shape: The surface and side of a good moon cake are slightly convex. The pattern is clear; the fillings have not leaked and there are no air bubbles.
  • Color: Choose those with a glossy and golden-yellow surface and ivory yellow sides. Avoid those with black burnt circle at the bottom.
  • Feel: Good cakes are soft rather than hard.
  • Aroma: It should be delicious with no bad odor.
  • If possible, buy from large supermarkets or stores and choose the well-known brands.
  • Keep in a cool, dry, ventilated place and avoid storage in direct sunlight or near sources of heat. Moon cakes contain rich oil and sugar, so both heat and humidity can cause them to go bad.
  • Store them in a separate place so they don't pick up odors from other foods.
  • Handle gently. Some types of the cookies, such as Yunnan-style, have soft, loose crusts. Any mishandling may break them.
  • Generally, five kernel moon cakes can be kept for about 15 days at a temperature below 25℃ and those filled with sweet bean paste, lotus seed paste and jujube paste less than 10 days; if the temperature is higher than 30℃, the storage period should be no longer than 7 days; for fillings of fresh meat, chicken shreds and ham, one should buy them just before eating.

Appreciating the mid-autumn festival Part 1- Origins of mid-autumn festival

Legend has it that the occupants of the moon palace are Chang Er, the jade rabbit and Wu Gang. Find out about them in my next entry.

Chinese mid-autumn festival is just around the corner. In Singapore, the festival is closely associated to eating moon-cakes and we can spot children playing with lanterns and candles. But do you know the deeper meaning and origins of the festival? I have come up with three short posts, hoping that my readers would gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the festival. Enjoy and have a great weekend of mid-autumn funz!

What is mid-autumn festival? - Mid-autumn festival is one of the major festivals in China. During the Ming and Qing dynasty, the 4 major festival included Chinese New Year (spring festival), Dragon Boat festival, Mid-autumn festival and Qingming festival. Mid-autumn festival is a festive day for reunion of family members and the time to celebrate the harvest. Farmers had toiled hard through spring and summer. Crops are ripe and ready for harvesting during the time of autumn. With the arrival of autumn, they can finally enjoy the fruits of their hard work.

Is the moon the brightest and biggest during mid-autumn? - Popular saying is that the full moon during mid-autumn is the biggest and brightest for the entire year. This is not scientifically accurate. It is just a belief that people tend to associate.

Appreciating mid-autumn festival Part 2 – Chinese legends relating to the moon
Wu Gang chops the tree

We are all pretty familiar with the story of how Chang Er ended up in the moon. I would assume most of us, including myself, are not clear about the mysterious man who is seen as chopping the tree and the cute rabbit that ends up in the moon.

There are many versions to this tale. This particular version is what I have retrieved from my source. I like the moral meaning behind the legend. It imparts to us the moral lesson of being self-content and not be overly greedy. This story goes like this. There are two brothers Wu Gang (吴刚) and Wu Qiang(吴强)Wu Qiang is the younger brother. He is an honest man who works hard for himself. Wu Gang on the other hand, is lazy and lacks the drive. Wu Qiang possessed a magical cow, who told him that he would bring his master to the moon palace on the 15th day.

There is a magical tree at the palace. When chopped, it would drop golden fruits. Wu Qiang did as his cow told him and the magical tree would recover after being chopped. Wu Qiang returned to earth before sunrise, with enough golden fruits to enjoy the rest of his life. Wu Gang heard of the account and demanded for the magical cow. When he arrived at the moon palace, he started to chop the tree to retrieve the golden fruits. Overcome by greed, he kept chopping the tree and missed the hour to return home with the magical cow. Till this very day, Wu Gang is still at the moon palace chopping the tree to gather more and more golden fruits.

Appreciating mid-autumn festival Part 3 – Origins of moon-cake
The “traditional” moon-cake that we used to eat. But now with the changing taste and demand of the local consumer, we have durian flavoured moon-cakes and champagne moon-cakes. Yum.

There are many offered explanations to the origins of moon-cakes. The most common one that we know is that Zhu Yuan Zhang used the moon-cake to hide messages in it. The moon-cakes are disseminated to his followers to revolt against the Mongol ruler of the Yuan Dynasty.

Xuanzong emperor and Yang Guifei - The other origin was traced to Concubine Yang Guifei. Before her time, Zhang Qian of Han dynasty brought a cake with sesame and walnut fillings from the Western region (西域). This was named as Hu cake(胡饼).One day when Yang Guifei and Xuanzong emperor was appreciating the moon and eating the Hu cake, Xuanzong felt that the name does not sound nice. Yang Guifei suggested since they are eating this cake on mid-autumn festival and it’s the full moon, they could rename it as moon-cake. That moon-cake evolved over time to what we have today. I have even seen a moon-cake that is shaped like the angry bird in Singapore. How innovative. I wonder how it tastes … J

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Mid-Autumn Festival

The moon has always been the subject in poem and songs in Chinese literature, and most Chinese people regards the full moon on 15th day of 8th lunar month warm and beautiful. That day is called Mid-Autumn Festival, originated from the Moon sacrifices in ancient times.

It comes after harvest season with crops and fruits are all ripe while weather pleasant. For Chinese people, it is also the birthday of the earth god and they use this opportunity to express their gratitude to heaven and earth, together to worship the moon goddess. The custom of worshipping the moon can be traced back to 2000 BC, people hold ceremonies to greet the winter and the moon; while this became popular in Tang Dynasty; while in Song Dynasty, the custom of Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations becomes unprecedented popular. Contents varied in different parts of the country, eating moon cake, lighting lanterns and fire dragons, burning incense and some other interesting practices. But nowadays, playing under the full moon is not so popular as before.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is also an important occasions for family reunion as the full moon rises, all the families members would sit together and have a get together dinner. After dinner, they would watch the full moon arise in the courtyard and eat moon cake, sing moon poems.

Moon Cakes is the special food on Mid-Autumn Festival, in round shape, measuring about three inches in diameter and one in thickness. The cake is filling with lotus seeds, meat and other stuffing. A golden yolk from a salted duck egg was placed at the center of each cake, and the golden brown crust was decorated with symbols of the festival. In past time, several weeks needed to make moon cakes. Nowadays, automation speed and shorten the time of making moon cakes. It can fill with kinds of stuffing and people would buy it from stores as early as in 7th lunar month. The flavor of moon cake also varies based on region. Moon cakes in Guangdong wrapped in in a pastry-like crust and are famous for their meticulously prepared fillings; while Moon cakes in Peking areas are crisp with savory outer crust. But cakes are all sweet, tasty without being oily.

At some parts of China, eating pomelo on Mid-Autumn Day is an indispensable activities. The name of this fruit is homophonous with that for "blessing", and is considered auspicious. It features at pointed top, round bottom and thin skin with honey sweet taste.

In Chinese Culture, there are three legends concern about the goodness and other characters at the moon palace.

One is about Chang'e, whose husband was known and beloved as he used his red bow and white arrows to shot down nine suns that made a big drought for the human kind and left one sun. Chang'e and Houyi had a romantic meeting and they got married afterwards. In order to live an eternal happy live with Chang'e, Hou Yi went to the Kunlun Mountain and asked for help from Western Queen Mother.

The Western Queen Mother rewarded him elixir and told her if he and Chang'e share the elixir on on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, they can both enjoy eternal life; but if only one take it, that one will ascend to heaven and become immoral. Hou Yi came back home and told Chang'e but a wicked man named Feng Meng heard about the plan and decided to take the medicine away. On that day, when Hou Yi was still on his way back home, the wicked man murdered the husband and forced Chang'e to give him the elixir. In great pain, Chang'e drank all the elixir and went to the heaven. Even though she is in Heaven, her heart remains in the world of mortals. Never does she forget the deep love she has for Hou Yi and the love she feels for the people who have shared their sadness and happiness.

Another Story is about Wu Gang Chopping down the cassia tree. He is a wood cutter fascinated with immortality. The Jade Emperor angered and banished him to Moon Place to cut down a huge cassia tree. He chopped day and night but the holy tree restored itself with each blow Wu Gang made. And thus he is up there chopping still.

The Jade Rabbit in Moon Palace is also well-known. In the legend, three gods transformed themselves into poor and pity old men and begged something to eat from fox, monkey and rabbit. The fox and monkey refused to help these three men while rabbit offered himself into the blazing fire. The three sages were so touched and brought the rabbit to the Moon Palace, to accompany Chang'e.