Thursday, September 19, 2013

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Today is Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as "Moon Festival"), which we celebrate in my family. Traditionally, it's a celebration of the harvest during the full moon, but I associate it more with this story, as it's what my parents read to me as a small child:

"In the ancient past, there was a hero named [Hou] Yi who was excellent at shooting. His wife was Chang'e. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang'e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang'e keep the elixir. But Feng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Feng Meng broke into Yi's house and forced Chang'e to give the elixir to him. Chang'e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband very much and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang'e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang'e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi." (quoted from the ever handy Wikipedia)

Mainly, it's a time for families to get together and have a big dinner, as well as share in the most important aspect of this festival: MOONCAKE. Often presented in beautiful and elegantly decorated boxes, mooncakes are traditionally made with a pastry outer and filled with a rich red bean or lotus seed paste and features a single, salted hard egg yolk in the middle (to represent the moon). For non-Chinese people, this may sound disgusting, but I can assure you that it is absolutely delicious and a dessert I really enjoy eating once a year. There are several varieties of mooncakes and I personally prefer the pure white lotus seed paste, minus the egg yolk. I also really like the red bean variety as well, but then again, I love red bean anything. Last year, my uncle was in London around this time of the year on business and gave me a gift of four mini mooncakes that he had brought all the way from Hong Kong, boxed in a fancy, gorgeous case.

Of course, it totally slipped my mind that today was Mid-Autumn Festival (even though my mom reminded me to look for mooncakes weeks ago) and my uncle wasn't here to save me, so I ended up running to Chinatown at lunch time to buy mooncakes. Thankfully, all the Chinese bakeries and grocery stores were prepared, so no one left empty-handed - not even last minute procrastinators like me.  The price of mooncakes can range from reasonable to outright expensive, depending on the quality of the ingredients. Being in London's Chinatown, I didn't hold my breath for top quality stuff.

Nevertheless, I'll eat mine (more like a quarter of mine, because they're so rich) tonight with a steaming cup of jasmine tea and enjoy the view of the full moon from my flat. Yum.

Happy Moon Festival!

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