The mid-autumn festival and its indispensable treat – moon cakes – have been well loved and practiced for several hundred years.
The mid-autumn festival, which is believed to originate in China and celebrated by many Asian countries, including Vietnam, falls on the 15th day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar. The festival falls on September 15 this year.
There are several explanations on the origin of the mid-autumn festival and mooncakes, which boast a unique, sweet flavor and are diverse in shapes, sizes and fillings.
In feudal times, emperors would traditionally perform praying rituals to the sun in springtime and to the moon in the fall in hopes of auspicious weather, prosperous crops, peace, and wealth. Locals thus considered the 15th day of the eighth lunar month the day to pay tribute to the moon god, and offer moon-like round cakes to the god on the occasion. Following the ritual, they merrily relished the sweets and admired the full moon in the company of their dearest ones.
The fest is considered a special occasion for family reunions, and the original round shape of the mooncakes is also indicative of the meaning. During the celebrations, family members habitually get together, make offerings to their ancestors and delightedly enjoy mooncakes over fragrant tea while admiring the full moon. Meanwhile, kids typically hang around with their well-lit lanterns, chanting traditional moon-welcoming songs, and playing traditional games.
Over the course of time, mooncakes now presented to relatives, friends, and colleagues as a token of love, care, and gratitude have seen major changes and additions.
In Vietnam, just like in other Asian countries, many varieties of the original mooncakes have been produced and well embraced. Apart from traditional “banh nuong” (baked mooncake) and “banh deo” (sticky rice mooncake), mooncakes are now shaped as cute animals or come in other nice shapes.
Baked mooncake is baked from wheat flour, oil, and syrup boiled with malt. After being filled with various combinations of salted egg yolk, dried sausage, seeds and mung bean paste, it would be brushed with egg wash, then baked in the oven.
Sticky rice mooncake is rather easier to make. The crust of it is made from roasted glutinous rice flour with pomelo blossom water or syrup and vanilla. After softening the rice flour, the fillings are stuffed inside the crust and then the cake is put into a beautifully crafted mold. Then the sticky rice mooncake can be eaten immediately.
Visitors to Vietnam during Mid-Autumn Festival can buy mooncakes in street stalls, in the grocery stores or supermarkets. You can also ask local people for the best-selling places to enjoy the traditional taste.