Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mooncakes

I was introduced to a new holiday this past week that is part of my husband's culture -- the Moon Festival.  Based on the moon cakes alone, I decided that I needed to learn more.

Traditional Mooncakes via
My husband is originally from Taiwan, but since he was so young when he moved here, he really doesn't have much memory of tradition or culture from his birth country.  Luckily his family has been happy to share their traditions with me, and I have found that we are both learning so much about his culture together that hopefully one day we can share with our (future) children.  

The Moon Festival is celebrated in most Chinese cultures, including Taiwan where it is a national holiday, and is similar in concept to our Thanksgiving.  It is also often translated as the "Mid-Autumn" festival, and is a time of giving thanks for the harvest and gathering with family.  Part of this family thanks giving is the gifting of mooncakes, scrumptuous pastries filled with bean paste or egg yolk traditionally.  I know that sounds crazy, but it tastes really, really good (especially the bean paste ones).  These little cakes are impressively dense, and a small one like the ones above and below are around 200 calories a piece.  Traditional cakes that are a bit larger are typically served cut into pieces because the entire cake can be as much as 1000 calories!  I saw that on the internet and had to run and check the cakes I have been eating all week; phew, I only had the 200 calorie type.

Artistic rendition of Chang E, the Moon Goddess via
I'm a sucker for folk stories so I did a ton of reading this week about the traditional lore around the moon festival, involving a pair of star crossed lovers.  While Americans might not be familiar with the tale themselves, the themes are ones we have also grown up with.  If you don't like folk stories, please stop reading now because you are about to get one.  The story involves an incredibly talented archer, Hou Yi, who somehow manages to shoot down 9 out of the 10 suns that were originally in the sky scorching up the earth (and crops) at the time,  As a reward for his amazingly good archery skills and the comfortable living and growing climate he brought to the earth, one of the gods brought him an elixir that would give him the gift of immortality.  Hou Yi was madly in love with his wife, Chang E, and didn't want to live on without her, so instead they just kept the immortality draught in a safe place.  Of course, a devil-like character shows up one day when Hou Yi is away, and Chang E is forced to prevent this evil man from becoming immortal and pestering humanity forever. She has to take the elixir herself to keep it out of his hands, and is immediately transported to the moon, where the immortals apparently live in a palace. Hou Yi and Chang E are thus separated forever, but whenever there is a full moon he would honor her with burning lanterns and gifts of cakes and fruit. Somehow there is also something about a rabbit in all of this, but I couldn't get clear answers from my relatives.  They seem to think the rabbit is involved with the immortality elixir in some way.  Anyhow, if you see traditional artwork about Chang E or the moon festival she will often being holding a rabbit,
Mooncakes filled with fruit blend
Even better mooncakes filled with bean paste or egg yolk
As I learn more about my husband's culture and tradition, I am realizing how little I learned about the outside world growing up in North Carolina.  Sure, I took World History, but I feel like especially eastern cultures were topics not really covered in detail.  I got a relatively good European history base in school, but learning about South America, Africa, or Asian cultures were just not major focus areas.  In the small amount of travelling I have done so far, it is obvious that our world is shrinking faster every day and all of our cultures are meeting and fusing and mixing.  Over the weekend I was able to share our mooncakes from Taiwan with friends that had similar upbringings as me (meaning North Carolina isolated, haha) and I was surprised to learn that many of them had heard about mooncakes this past week, either from facebook or pinterest or through friends.  Every time I get kind of discouraged by the giant commercial that I feel blogging has become, there are moments like these when you are faced with how much social media has brought us all together.  I hope Lucy and I can continue to help share what we are learning through our culture-mixed marriages, and hopefully you guys don't mind a few folk stories from time to time (sorry).  I will promise to infuse them with pictures of incredibly good food :)

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