iPhoneOgraphy – 14 Sep 2016 (Day 258/366)
A mooncake (simplified Chinese: 月饼; traditional Chinese: 月餅; pinyin: yuè bĭng; Yale: yuht béng) is a Chinese bakery product traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiujie). The festival is for lunar worship and moon watching, when mooncakes are regarded as an indispensable delicacy. Mooncakes are offered between friends or on family gatherings while celebrating the festival. The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the four most important Chinese festivals.
Typical mooncakes are round pastries, measuring about 10 cm in diameter and 3–4 cm thick. This is the Cantonese mooncake, eaten in Southern China in Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macau. A rich thick filling usually made from red bean or lotus seed paste is surrounded by a thin (2–3 mm) crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea. Today, it is customary for businessmen and families to present them to their clients or relatives as presents, helping to fuel a demand for high-end mooncake styles. The energy content of a mooncake is approximately 1,000 calories or 4,200 kilojoules (for a cake measuring 10 cm (3.9 in)), but energy content varies with filling and size. There is also considerable waste. According to the Wall Street Journal’s China edition, as many as two million mooncakes are thrown away each year in Hong Kong alone.
Most mooncakes consist of a thin, tender pastry skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling, and may contain one or more whole salted egg yolks in their center as the symbol of the full moon. Very rarely, mooncakes are also served steamed or fried.
Traditional mooncakes have an imprint on top consisting of the Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony”, as well as the name of the bakery and the filling inside. Imprints of the moon, Lady Chang er on the moon, flowers, vines, or a rabbit (symbol of the moon) may surround the characters for additional decoration.
The festival is intricately linked to legends of Chang Er, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality. According to “Li-Ji”, an ancient Chinese book recording customs and ceremonies, the Chinese Emperor should offer sacrifices to the sun in spring and the moon in autumn. The 15th day of the 8th lunar month is the day called “Mid-Autumn”. The night on the 15th of the 8th lunar month is also called “Night of the Moon”. Under the Song Dynasty (420), the day was officially declared the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Because of its central role in the Mid-Autumn festival, mooncakes remained popular even in recent years. For many, they form a central part of the Mid-Autumn festival experience such that it is now commonly known as ‘Mooncake Festival’.
There is a folk tale about the overthrow of Mongol rule facilitated by messages smuggled in moon cakes.
Mooncakes were used by the Ming revolutionaries in their effort to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of China at the end of the Yuan dynasty. The idea is said to have been conceived by Zhu Yuan Zhang and his advisor Liu Bowen, who circulated a rumor that a deadly plague of “Hóuzi chuánwěi jíbìng de” was spreading and that the only way to prevent it was to eat special mooncakes, which would instantly revive and give special powers to the user. This prompted the quick distribution of mooncakes. The mooncakes contained a secret message coordinating the Han Chinese revolt on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.
Another method of hiding a message was to print it on the surfaces of mooncakes (which came in packages of four), as a simple puzzle or mosaic. To read the message, each of the four mooncakes was cut into four parts. The resulting 16 pieces were pieced together to reveal the message. The pieces of mooncake were then eaten to destroy the message.
Many view the mooncake hidden messages to be a precursor to the modern day fortune cookie. By adding the covert element to the myths of the fortune cookie some have found more meaning behind the simple treat. This led to the act of removing and replacing the fortune inside without breaking for an added bit of good luck.