Mooncakes & Dumplings: The Mid-Autumn Festival

According to the lunar calendar, the moon will shine brightest on October 3 this year. In countries from China to Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, people will gather with family and friends to enjoy the view, give thanks for this year's harvest, and feast on delicious cakes and dumplings.

Originally associated with the harvest cycle and dating back over 3,000 years in China, the mid-autumn or moon festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Among our favorite traditions associated with the holiday are, of course, the foods: rich mooncakes filled with lotus seed paste and egg yolks, rice dumplings steamed over aromatic pine needles, and sweet little cakes shaped like rabbits.

Do you and your family celebrate the mid-autumn harvest or moon festival? What will you be cooking or eating?

CHINA: Zhongqiu Jie

There are many different legends associated with the Chinese moon festival, including tales of the moon goddess Chang'e, a pill of immortality, and a mythological archer named Houyi. It's also a time to celebrate the harvest season, to enjoy the bright mid-autumn moon, and to share feasts with family and friends. The holiday has become is famous worldwide for yuebing, or mooncakes, filled with lotus seed paste, egg yolks, sweet bean paste, jujubes, nuts, fruit, and other fillings. Other popular foods for the holiday include red foods, round foods, and fruits like pomelos, apples, and Asian pears.

• Learn more: Festival legends and regional mooncake variations, from Wikipedia
• Recipe: Making Mooncake with Love, from Red Cook

JAPAN: Jugoya

A custom of tsukimi, or moon viewing, takes place on Jugoya, the "15th night" (August 15 on the lunar calendar; October 3 on the solar calendar). People enjoy the moonrise and set up tables with offerings of tsukimi dango (moon viewing dumplings), seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the grasses of autumn. The dango, or rice dumplings, may be plain or filled, and are often arranged in a pyramid. Some cakes may be shaped like bunnies in reference to the legend of Tsukiyo no Usagi, a mochi-pounding rabbit that lives on the moon.

• Learn more: Japanese Moon Viewing - Tsukimi, from About.com
• Recipe: Tsukimi Dango with Matcha & Kinako, from Teacipes.com

KOREA: Chuseok

This three-day celebration is also known as Hangawi or Korean Thanksgiving. It has traditionally been celebrated with offerings of food and thanks to the ancestors, and sharing feasts and games with family and neighbors. The most important food served is songpyeon, a kind of tteok (rice cake). These half-moon shaped cakes are filled with sweet bean paste, chestnut paste, or sesame seeds and steamed over pine needles. Families may also serve newly harvested foods like persimmons, chestnuts, and jujubes.

• Learn more: Enjoy Flavors of Songpyeon, from Korea Times
• Recipe: Rice Cake (Songpyeon), from Maangchi

VIETNAM: Tết Trung Thu

This festival was traditionally a time when parents, who had been busy harvesting, stopped and focused on their children. Thus, it is also referred to as the Children's Festival. Parents and children participate in dances, art and crafts, and a colorful lantern procession. There are also offerings to ancestors and bánh trung thu (mooncakes). Square, round, or even shaped like pigs, Vietnamese mooncakes are filled with lotus seed paste, egg yolks, sweet bean paste, nuts, citrus peel, and other fillings.

• Learn more: Mid-Autumn Festival and Moon Cake Madness: Techniques to Make and How to Buy, from Viet World Kitchen

Related: Ethnic Thanksgiving: What Does Your Family Serve?

(Images: Flickr members Maya Hao Li/Cocoa Dream, eiichi scart, youngdoo, tatianaphung, Veronica_ss, maeda-en USA, drkigawa, JaeYong, lowbihong, youngdoo, used by permission)