This year the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) falls on September 27th and for most expats this holiday will roll right into the National Day Holiday on October first. While October 1st is an important date as it commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic, it shouldn’t over shadow the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Cake day as many laowai know it.
It is no surprise that expats have a love-hate relationship with moon cakes. They either see the box of moon cakes on their desk and immediately think of to whom they can re-gift the traditional treasures or they really do like the cakes and bring them home to share with the family. It is very similar to how many in the US view Christmas Fruitcake.
But that aside, moon cakes are the traditional treat and must have of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival being celebrated this week. And it is wonderful to have so many choices of cakes from the traditional lotus seed ( 蓮蓉, lían róng) , red bean (豆沙, dòu shā) and 5 Kernal (五仁, wǔ rén) flavors to the decidedly un-Chinese options of chocolate ice cream and vanilla cake. For those of us for whom this holiday is a new tradition, the choices are truly something to celebrate.
Like many traditional holiday foods, these moon cakes can spell diet trouble. Maybe that is why we are only supposed to eat them once a year? One look at the recipe , which requires lard in the filling and the crust, and you can already tell that this is one calorie loaded treat. To be fair there are recipes that have replaced the lard with oil but that is not “traditional”.
Finding out how many calories and fat are in a moon cake is no easy task. Depending on the filling the numbers for a 3 inch ( measured across the top) moon cake can range from 200 calories to 1000 calories, with most closer to 500 calories.
However in this case we really shouldn’t blame the baker for creating this potential diet disaster. Historically moon cakes were never meant to be eaten alone by one person. The basis of the festival is a family gathering, much like a harvest festival in other cultures. The round shape of the cake symbolizes not just the moon but the togetherness of the family, a never ending bond. Moon cakes are meant to be shared with family and friends; eating wedges of cake and sipping tea or wine while gazing at the full moon.
If this is your first Mid-Autumn Festival I encourage you to try the traditional moon cake, after all you are here in China, and be sure to share the evening with family and friends.
Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun