Perhaps many of our readers are aware of the Mid-Autumn Festival which is celebrated each year around late September in China and other parts of Asia. The festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, and as such, the actual date varies slightly from year to year, but it is usually around the time of the autumn equinox and is timed to coincide with the full moon. Traditionally a festival to give thanks and pray for a bountiful harvest and also to worship the moon, it is still today a huge event involving the gathering of family and friends, viewing the moon and, of course, sharing the special confectioneries known as mooncakes.
As it happens, just last week, I had the chance to visit Singapore right at the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival, which was on September 19 this year. Now, I knew that the festival would be going on during my trip, and also that the celebration involved mooncakes, and lots of it too — I just had no idea how much!
Chinese-style mooncakes are actually a well-known snack here in Japan, and we even call them by the same Chinese name “月餅” (although phonetically, they’re called geppei in Japanese). We also have a similar custom in Japan of moon gazing at the same time of year as the Mid-Autumn Festival. But interestingly, we don’t eat mooncakes in Japan specifically on that occasion; instead, we eat small dumplings made from mochi called tsukimi-dango (literally, moon-viewing dumplings). And this being my first mid-autumn experience in an area of Asia outside of Japan, I have to say that the sheer extent to which mooncakes seemed to feature in the mid-autumn festivities in Singapore genuinely took me by surprise.
Sure, I expected some shops and hotels to be selling mooncakes, but when I arrived in Singapore, I found that there were mooncakes EVERYWHERE!
▼ Even the Starbucks in front of the hotel I stayed was selling their original mooncakes!
▼ And here are some that I saw in the shops at the airport.
Apparently, it’s Chinese tradition to exchange gifts of mooncakes with family and friends during the Mid-Autumn Festival as a symbol of unity and plenty (And readers, please correct me if I’m mistaken in any of this, as the custom doesn’t exist in Japan). Well, the people of Singapore certainly have a huge selection to choose from, if the special Mid-Autumn Festival site I visited at the Takashimaya Department Store is anything to go by.
▼ Just look at this crowd — and all these shops are selling mooncakes!
It really was impossible to look through all the shops, but I didn’t want to go home empty-handed so I chose a box of small-sized mooncakes from a well-known luxury hotel chain (I may not be staying at their hotel, but I can certainly taste their mooncakes, right?). These were typical traditional baked mooncakes filled with lotus paste, and as you can see, the packaging, both the outer box and the smaller boxes inside, was gorgeous.
Some of the cakes came in even fancier boxes. Just take a look at this beautiful double-layered creation — it’s practically a work of art!
Some mooncakes contain a salted duck egg yolk or even two, like this cake here, symbolizing the full moon.
There were also colorful, non-baked mooncakes called snow-skin mooncakes, which looked absolutely amazing, but unfortunately I couldn’t buy because they wouldn’t keep too long.
▼ A brochure of the mooncakes from the famous Raffles Hotel — even on paper they look beautiful!
I only had the chance to taste the baked mooncakes with lotus paste this year, but they were definitely tasty enough without being too sweet and made me to want to go back again next year and try various mooncakes from other hotels and shops as well.
▼ Some of the other precious mooncakes I saw at special shops and booths
So, if you ever have plans to visit Singapore around the time of the mid-autumn festivities, be prepared to possibly battle crowds to find the perfect mooncake for your loved ones and most of all, to eat lots and lots of the cake, because you really will be surrounded by them wherever you go. Oh, and you may want to bring a larger suitcase than usual, in case you want to take the lovely boxes back with you intact!
All photos: RocketNews24