The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is when people across Asia and beyond celebrate the full moon at harvest time. The festival goes back 3,000 years when the Chinese Emperors worshipped the Moon Goddess for a bountiful harvest.
Today, the customs of the Mid-Autumn Festival are carried out according to tradition - the moon is said to be at its brightest and roundest at this time, so it’s an ideal opportunity for a family reunion, thanksgiving and praying. It is said that the Moon Goddess looks favourably on couples, and matters of fertility, romance and love are thought to enjoy good fortune.
Mooncake and More: A Whole Host of Mid-Autumn Festival Food
Of course, festival food plays a central role bringing good luck in the festivities, and there are many traditional dishes that people eat at festival dinners and family gatherings during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Here’s a look at some of the most popular delicacies.
The most iconic delicacy enjoyed during the Mid-Autumn Festival is of course the Mooncake. A thick pastry casing, marked with Chinese characters of longevity, have different fillings according to where they are made in China. Each region has its own variations of pastry and fillings, such as red bean paste, fruit, egg yolk, nuts, or lotus seed paste, taro and pineapple. Dianxi Xiaoge has a Youtube channel with over six million followers, and her Yunnan Ham Mooncake is simply mouthwatering.
The hairy crab or mitten crab is a Shanghai delicacy eaten throughout China for the Mid-Autumn Festival, as it is in season during September and October. Steamed crabs are often prepared with ginger and vinegar and served with soy sauce at family gatherings. Watch how Gordon Ramsay gets to grips with hairy crab in the video above.
Buffalo nuts or water caltrops are eaten at the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival because they resemble small bats which are thought to be lucky in China. They are usually simply boiled and eaten as a snack.
The taro is a purple sweet potato, usually boiled or steamed. Eating taro during the Mid-Autumn Festival has been done for thousands of years, and they are thought to bring good luck and ward off misfortune.
Eating river snails is a tradition that comes from Guangzhou where they are plentiful due to the warmer climate. They are found in the rivers and paddy fields of the southern province, and cooked with strong herbs to counter the pungent odour. In Chinese medicine eating river snails is supposed to benefit your eyesight.
Eating pumpkin is a tradition associated with the people of China who couldn’t afford the Mooncake delicacy and instead ate pumpkin patties as an alternative. Eating pumpkin is thought to encourage good health.
Eating duck is popular at all times of year in China, but the fowl is thought to be at its tastiest at this time of year. Each region has its own way of preparing it: in Fujian it is cooked with Taro, in Jiangsu it is baked and salted with osmanthus, while in Sichuan smoked-baked duck is brown and salty, and Nanjing-style duck has crispy skin and tender meat.
Eating watermelon is popular during the Mid-Autumn festival because its round shape recalls the moon and symbolises family reunion. The seeds are also thought to promote fertility.
The lotus root comes into season just at the right time for the Mid-Autumn Festival. A typical preparation of lotus root is to steam them and serve them with sticky rice, stir-fried vegetables and honey.
The osmanthus flower is in bloom during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and drinking wine infused with the flower is a tradition that goes back thousands of years in China. The osmanthus flower is also used as an ingredient and a garnish in many typical dishes.