I picked up one of these “pies” on the way back to my hotel one afternoon, because of the mob of customers vying for service at the large bakery on the corner. I figured they must be good to be so popular.
What I hadn’t realised was that these pastry “cakes” are one of the hallmark traditions of the Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam, also known as the “Moon Festival” and the cakes are called “mooncakes”. The festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar during a full moon, which is in September or early October. It was now September.
The Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival
Considered to be the second most important holiday tradition among the Vietnamese, the making and sharing of mooncakes is a celebrated custom at this time. There are three fundamental meanings of the festival, all closely tied to one another:
- Gathering, such as family and friends coming together, or harvesting crops.
- Thanksgiving, to give thanks for the harvest, or for harmonious unions
- Praying (asking for conceptual or material satisfaction), such as for babies, a spouse, beauty, longevity, or for a good future
There are many myths and legends associated with the Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Festival, and they have evolved over time. Apparently the origins date way back to the Chinese Shang Dynasty (16th to 10th century BC). The most ancient form of this festival for the Vietnamese celebrated the dragon who brought rain for the crops and has evolved to it’s present identity as a children’s festival.
The big yellow bit in the middle of the cake is a salty egg yolk representing the full moon. I suspect, like oysters, it’s an acquired taste. Traditional fillings include lotus seed paste, red bean paste, and black bean paste. As you can see from the photo, it was filled with dates, nuts and fruit (ohhh the calories!). You can also see how much of it I’d tasted. I lost my appetite after a couple of bites. It’s very rich.
Dates for the Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Festival are as follows:
- 2013: September 19
- 2014: September 8
- 2015: September 27
- 2016: September 15
- 2017: October 4
- 2018: September 24
- 2019: September 13
- 2020: October 1
- 2021: September 21