International Foods of Autumn Moon Festival
Mid-Autumn Festival, Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival, Zhongqiu Festival. For all intents and purposes, all one in the same. The origins of the venerable holiday cum festival stem in China, of course, where it ranks with Spring Festival and Winter Solstice in importance. As is the case with both, Mid-Autumn Festival arose from the lunar and harvest cycles. As such, it holds vital significance as a figurative fete of agricultural subsistence, community, ancestry and cultural heritage.
To many, however, Autumn Moon Festival is all about the food. For hundreds of millions in Asia and, indeed, all over the world, the holiday is a time to convene with family and friends to prepare communal spreads of symbolic foods. With that, check out some of the more notable yummy traditions that coincide with Mid-Autumn Festival in late September/early October.
Like other festivals in China, Autumn Moon assumes a general, homogeneous tone but, at the same time, adopts innumerable regional and village variations. Known as Zhongqiu in the People’s Republic, the festival is practically inseparable from the consumption of mooncakes. This gustatory form of lunar worship harkens back thousands of years. The caloric cakes, full of red bean or lotus seed paste, acquire an aura of cultural currency throughout the festival.
Regional traditions vary from river snails in Guangzhou to duck in Fujian.
Like China, Autumn Moon Festival is a public holiday in Taiwan. The island nation, food-mad as it is, ups the epicure ante a notch or two for the occasion. Mooncakes abound of course, but so do pineapple cakes and massive outdoor cookouts.
Autumn Moon Festival, or Chuseok in Korea, is a major holiday that spans three festive days. From Seoul to Jeju, this is a time to celebrate, consume and imbibe to excess. Vital table items include songpyeon (rice cakes with chestnut, sesame and bean paste), japchae (vegetable pan cakes) and bulgogi. Chuseok also marks a sombre, auspicious time to return to home villages and towns for ancestor worship, temple rituals and folk games.
In Japan, Tsukimi is the rough equivalent of Mid-Autumn Festival and translates as “to watch the moon”. Suffice to say that astronomical observation works up a sufficient appetite to give rise to a panoply of specific foods for the holiday. Known as tsukimi ryori, these “moon foods” evince the bounty of the harvest and include ornate rice dumplings, yams, chestnuts and taro. Each item holds encoded symbolic meaning in relation to the moon’s position and appearance. Eggs, and particularly the yolks of eggs, hold obvious metaphorical appeal during Tsukimi. Yolks regularly top soba or udon noodles and strips of nori in broth.
Home to the most notable Chinese community outside of Asia, San Francisco is no stranger to Mid-Autumn Festival. The City by the Bay’s Chinatown duly celebrates in style with a huge two-day street fair laden with mooncakes and dim sum goodness.
Australia’s keystone city is naturally home to a considerable Chinese community. The Southern Hemisphere calendar may show Spring but Sydney’s Chinatown celebrates Mid-Autumn Festival in September all the same with delicious, local takes on the traditional mooncake.