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The Foods of Mid-Autumn Festivals

Many Asian cultures that follow a lunar calendar celebrate an Autumn festival on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar, which on this day falls on September 12th. This is not coincidentally when the moon is at its fullest. 

Since the holiday occurs when the harvest is bountiful, food -- like with pretty much all other holidays -- plays a major role. We've done a roundup of the different types of foods that mark each of the holidays. Please share your stories about how you celebrate by commenting below! 

In China, the mid-autumn festival is called Zhong Qiu Jie (also called the Moon Festival). Not surprisingly, the mooncake plays a major culinary role in this holiday, when Chinese families traditionally gather to pay respects to ancestors, light lanterns and view the full and bright moon. 

In areas like Guangzhou, eating river snails is a big tradition, whereas in areas like Fujian, people traditionally eat ducks, because that's when they're mighty tasty. (Try this reportedly popular recipe for a duck and taro dish).

Mooncakes are also a big part of celebrations in Taiwan, as are pineapple cakes, and strangely -- BBQ, a relatively recent phenomenon. The tradition of families gathering to fire up the barbie goes like this: in the 1980s, barbeque marketers for whatever reason did heavy promotions around the festival. Let's just say -- it caught on! 

In Korea, Chuseok is a major point in the year. Koreans observe the holiday over three days, gathering together to celebrate the harvest and visit ancestors' tombs to offer food and drink.   


Songpyeon (송편), a type of Korean rice cake is the food star of Chuseok. It's a crescent shaped rice cake made with different fillings, such as chestnuts, sesame seeds, and different kinds of beans, which are traditionally steamed on top of the freshly picked pine needles. Other Chuseok foods commonly prepared are japchae, different kinds of jeon (vegetable pan cakes), bulgogigalbijim and fruits.

For families celebrating Jesa (제사), which is a Korean tradition of paying respects and remembering their deceased ancestors, special food needs to be prepared, such as plainly flavored and simply cooked beef, fish, fruits, rice cakes and vegetables. A table is set with the food, and families pray, bow and offer the food to their ancestors, before sharing the food with family and neighbors. 

In Japan, Tsukimi means "moon viewing." Like other countries, gathering to view the moon is core part of the holiday, as is the consumption of special foods called "tsukimi-ryori", or moon cuisine/foods. These include tsukimi-dango (rice dumplings) and other foods which are traditionally harvested at this like, like taro, green soybeans and chestnuts. Food fact: if you come across tsukimi-soba or tsukimi-udon, these are not traditionally tsukimi-ryori, but named after the fact that they have an egg cracked on top, which resembles the moon. 

Catching the reflection of the moon in a cup of sake (tsukimisake) is also a tradition, which may bring good luck or alternatively, may help you get pregnant! 

And a semi-food related belief: sometimes I swear I can see the "Man in the moon." But this full moon, look hard and you might just see, as the Japanese believe, a rabbit ... pounding mochi. (It's worth reading the story behind this here.) 

Have you got a food tradition for the Mid-Autumn festival? By all means, don't keep it to yourself. Share, share away -- and that includes any yummy recipes! 

Photo credits: mooncake photo courtesy via Flickr: jimmiehomeschoolmommoon photo via Flickr: hyougushi


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