If there is one single thing you definitely must eat in Mid Autumn Day, that would be Chinese Moon Cake. A mid autumn day celebration without moon cake is not such.
Chinese Moon Cake
Moon cake in Chinese is called “Yue bing” (Yue as moon, bing – I have mentioned a few times before, a round flat ‘bakery’).
Moon cake is a round cake with various fillings. It is called ‘Moon cake’, not only because of its shape, which reminds us of the the full moon (traditionally, people would sit under the moon light, eating the cake and appreciating the beautiful scenery), but also because, according to the legend, a moon cake was first made for Chang’e, a woman who lives in the palace on the moon.
The legend of Moon Cake
There are many different stories of why we eat moon cake. Although there are historical records on how the moon cake firstly appeared, there is also a popular legend explaining its origin.
The legend says that long long time ago, there were ten suns in the sky, it was too hot for people to live. So Houyi, a very good shooter, took the arrow, climbed mountains, went through valleys to shoot down nine of the suns, left only one to give people light and warmth. That’s how the four seasons originated.
He was treated as a hero, but at the same time, he got so many people jealous that they tried to murder him. During the escaping, for saving his beautiful wife Chang’e, he gave her a ‘magic tablet’ which could make her live forever, and become a fairy. After she swallowed the tablet, she suddenly started flying, eventually reached the moon, and would never be able to come back to Earth.
Houyi and Chang’e had been apart ever since. Every year, on Mid Autumn day, the moon gets very bright and clear, Houyi could see Chang’e’s lonely figure in the moon. He asked people to prepare all the food she used to like — and moon cake is one of her favorite.
So people started preparing moon cake for celebrating Mid Autumn Festival, for saying thank you to ‘Houyi’, and for remembering Chang’e.
The tradition of having Moon Cake on Mid Autumn Day has been passed on from generation to generation till today.
Types of Moon Cake
Nowadays, there are many more different kinds of fillings and shapes than in the past. There are also great difference between southern moon cake to northern moon cake in terms of taste. In the North, the fillings of the moon cake are always sweet, but in South, particular in the Canton area, the moon cake commonly has a salty egg yolk in the filling.
But regardless of shapes or fillings, the surface of the moon cakes always comes with beautiful patterns, and often with some words like ‘Moon Cake’, oh, happy Mid Autumn Day.
(To be continued: how to make moon cake.)