The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the four most important holidays in China. The holiday falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar. Traditionally, on this day, Chinese family members and friends gather together to admire the bright mid-autumn moon, enjoying moon cakes, fruit, and tea.
Moon cakes symbolize family reunion, fullness, harmony, and good fortune. The earliest moon cake appeared in the southern part of China in the Shang Dynasty (1766 – 1122 B.C.). It was a type of thin-edged cake. Since the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.) sesame seeds, melon seeds, and walnuts became common ingredients in moon cakes.
For generations, moon cakes have been made with sweet fillings of melon seeds, nuts, lotus-seed paste, smashed red beans, and dates.
As time went by, moon cakes also developed regional characteristics based on local foods and customs. Beijing style moon cakes have a crispy brown shell, while Suzhou style moon cakes have multiple layers of thin crust. Guangzhou style has a thick, soft shell and a variety of fillings. In Taiwan, sweet potatoes are also used for the filling in moon cakes.
Nowadays, there are hundreds of varieties of moon cakes on sale a month before the Mid-Autumn Festival. Many new types of moon cakes have been sold recently, such as ice-shelled moon cakes that do not require baking but need to be kept frozen, vegetable and fruit moon cakes, abalone and fish-fin filled seafood moon cakes, etc.
No matter what kind of moon cake one prefers, people enjoy them with tea, since it serves as good complement to the heavy sweetness. Chinese tea and moon cakes are a perfect combination.