Today, Malaysia joins China, Hongkong, Taiwan and Korea in celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. The festival falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, when the moon is at its maximum brightness for the entire year.
The festival also came to be known as ‘Mooncake Festival’ due to the consumption of Chinese pastries called ‘mooncakes’. The mooncakes are traditionally round or rectangular in shape, measuring about 10 cm in diameter and 4-5 cm thick. The mooncakes comprise of a very thin soft crust (some 2-3 mm), usually stamped with Chinese characters or — in recent days — hotels’ logos, with a dense, sweet filling inside. Traditional fillings are lotus seed paste, red bean paste and black bean paste. Nowadays, however, mooncake fillings are more exotic — there are green tea mooncakes, snowskin mooncakes (a Southeast Asian variation made with cooked glutinous rice flour), and even ice cream mooncakes. Sometimes, the mooncakes contain yolks from salted duck eggs, said to represent the moon. Mooncakes are very rich and very sweet, meant to be cut into small pieces and eaten with Chinese tea. They’re calorie bombs so dieters better limit their intake of these cakes!
Mooncakes are quite tedious to make, therefore, most people buy them instead of making them. This year, mooncake prices in Malaysia start from RM10 (less than USD3) per piece. It goes without saying that the more exotic types also have ‘more exotic’ prices.
In Malaysia, it has become customary for people to give mooncakes to family and friends prior to the festival. Some companies also give the mooncakes to their clients, even if their clients are not Chinese. Hence, most hotels and bakeries have come up with ‘Halal’ mooncakes, i.e. without lard, so that Muslims can also enjoy them.
The Mid-Autumn is more of a historical festival rather than a religious one, marking the successful rebellion of the Chinese against the Mongols way back in the 14th century. Legend has it that the secret about a plot against the Mongolians was hidden inside the mooncake, which is why people celebrate this festival with the mooncake. In the olden days, lanterns were also used at night as signals from higher grounds and mountaintops. Today, the same practice continues, with people hanging lanterns in their homes. The lanterns have become more modern, though, and come in all shapes, colours and sizes, such as animals and Disney cartoon characters, mostly to cater to children.