Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 494, Sept 5 – Sept 18, 2014)
By Epoch Times Staff
A beautiful autumn moon, good food, and good company inevitably inspires the birth of good poetry amongst the literati. Throughout ancient Chinese history, countless poems and songs have been written about the moon and mid-autumn. Remembering that the festival was one of reunion, many of these poets wrote about missing loved ones or homesickness. On the right, we highlight one of the most famous ones by Li Bai—”Drinking Alone with the Moon”.
As a child, one of your favourite childhood memories may have been lighting and carrying a colourful paper or cellophane lantern during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Lanterns are a notable part of the holiday, whether they are carried on hung up for decoration. No one knows for sure the origin of this tradition, but today the lantern has come to symbolise the festival itself. They nevertheless serve as beautiful decorations and innovative toys to keep the kids entertained.
Some countries like Taiwan and China also have the custom of lighting and floating sky lanterns, on which various wishes are written. Another tradition is the writing of Chinese riddles (灯谜 dēng mi)on lanterns or on posters, for readers to guess the answers.
One of the biggest telltale signs that the Mid-Autumn Festival is around the corner is when one sees mooncakes everywhere— in supermarkets, bakeries, and newspaper advertisements.
But where does this quintessential festive pastry originate from, and why do we eat it on this special day?
One popular tale describes how the cakes were originally employed by the Han Chinese to overthrow the ruling Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368 AD), by using the cakes to conceal and spread the message that they were to rebel on Mid-Autumn Day.
However, in truth, the mooncake dates back to even earlier times than the Yuan Dynasty. The earliest version of the mooncake appeared in Southern China during the Shang Dynasty (1766 – 1122 B.C.), as a type of thin-edged cake.
During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.) sesame seeds, melon seeds and walnuts were added into the cakes. Because sesame seeds and walnuts were from ethnic minority areas (also called “Hu”), moon cakes were called “Hu cakes.”
This lasted until the Tang Dynasty (618 –907 AD) when, one Mid-Autumn Festival, Emperor Xuanzong tried a Hu cake and marvelled at its taste. His oncubine, Lady Yang, looked up in the evening sky and saw the full moon. She suggested naming the confection moon cake.
Over the generations, mooncakes have been made with sweet fillings of melon seeds, nuts, lotus-seed paste, red bean paste, and dates. Often, a whole egg yolk is placed in the centre to balance out the sweet filling with a salty taste.
Different regions also have their unique methods of preparing these cakes. The most commonly seen type in Singapore is the Cantonese or Kuang style mooncakes, which have a soft shell and are known for their wide variety of fillings. Also popular here are the Teochew or Su style moon cakes, which have multiple layers of thin, delicate crust.
Other styles include the Taiwan or Tai style mooncakes which use mung bean paste or sweet potatoes for the filling, and the Beijing or Ping style mooncakes which have a crispy brown shell.
Modern innovations to the mooncake include shells made of snowskin or jelly, and fillings of ice cream, chocolate, coffee, fruits such as pineapple and durian, and meat like abalone and fish-fin.
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