Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mooncakes and Beyond

Eating mooncakes on the day of the full moon, August 15th of the Chinese calendar, has been a tradition since the Ming dynasty even though mooncakes were first known in the Tang dynasty. Lots of traditions were not carried on during the Culture Revolution, but just like some of the Chinese New Year traditions, eating mooncakes was always a big family festivity. We didn't have so many varieties at that time and mooncakes were not packed in fancy packaging. We still had our favorite mooncakes, and we had family reunions on the day of the full moon. Now, dozens of flavors include not only sweet or salty, but also sweet and salty mixed and even spicy ones. Guangdong and Beijing mooncakes were the only well-known ones at that time, but now each province has its own flavored mooncakes. Here is a list of new flavors from different provinces (Among these are nine varieties of fruits, tea, seafood, healthy and others. Each has different flavors, for example, fruits has eight flavors and seafood has four flavors).

Nowadays, mooncakes are not only the symbol of family celebration on Moon Festival, but they are also big gift items for businesses and governments. Dozens of varieties of mooncakes are packaged in all kinds of fancy packages (here is an example from one Chinese website), people exchange them by visiting each other or send them via carrier services.

When ChinaSprout first sold mooncakes in 1999, some customers asked us if we sold mooncakes molds because they wanted to make their own mooncakes. I was shocked that people would even think of making their own mooncakes. I had never seen or even heard of any Chinese who made their mooncakes. I actually thought that customers wanted too much of Chinese traditions that even the Chinese don't do anymore. Even though I told our customers that we Chinese don't make our own mooncakes, I didn't tell them why. I hated to say that it was too much trouble or too complicated to make our own mooncakes. But now I know why. Guess what, we never had ovens or microwaves until recent years! How could we make mooncakes if we didn't have ovens!

Nowadays, even a microwave is a must-have item in the Chinese kitchen, and it can make simple mooncakes. Most Chinese families still don't have an oven and therefore, few families make their own mooncakes. Nevertheless, I just read that now making mooncakes is become a fashion in China, and that more and more Chinese have started making their mooncakes. This community even had a gathering and taught families to make their own mooncakes!

This year, the Moon Festival falls on October 3rd. On this day, China and Chinese around world will celebrate by eating mooncakes and enjoying the full moon. We still have the four flavor mooncakes (unfortunately the bakery in New York is not as innovative as the ones in China to produce those dozens of flavors), and you can enjoy these special festivity favorites with ChinaSprout!