Chinese Moon Festival
When is the Chinese Moon Festival?
In Taiwan, the Chinese Moon Festival means mostly one thing - barbecue! All right, not just barbecue... Moon cakes (right picture) are also popular on that day!
It's also referred to as the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, and usually falls somewhere in September or early October (the 15th of the 8th lunar month, following the Chinese calendar). It falls on the same day as the autumnal equinox, when the moon is full and brilliant.
The Story Behind the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival
The Chinese Moon Festival is backed by an enchanting love story that has remained in the public conscious for the thousands of years since it supposedly happened. The story can also be read as the origin of the Yin and Yang dichotomy that makes up the majority of Chinese metaphysics.
There are a ton of variations of the Chinese Moon Festival story, but the basic gist is that Houyi, a mythological archer falls in love and marries Chang'e, goddess of the moon. Depending on the version, a pill that grants eternal life ends up in the hands of Chang'e and brings her to the moon. Houyi can't reach her, and ends up living on the sun waiting for her to remake the pill and return to earth.
The Chinese Moon Festival Today
Anyway, that was a long time ago. Today, as I said before, the Moon Festival is mostly about barbecue and getting together with family and friends. In Taiwan's cities, the tradition of outdoor barbecuing becomes a bit comical - people squatting on dirty sidewalks with plastic grills bought the same day, shooing away flies and cockroaches.
Still, it's one of the best ways to score a free meal and get to know some of the locals. Drunken guys barbecuing on the street will invite you for a couple skewers, and you'd be silly to decline.
Also, the Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue phenomenon is particular to Taiwan and though many other countries celebrate the Chinese Moon Festival, they don't have this relatively recent tradition.
The Moon Cakes
The festival is also typified by the moon cake, a calorie-heavy Chinese delicacy that is often given as a gift and/or consumed during the Moon Festival. The cakes are on the small side (not really like a large "cake") - think like a medium-to-big-sized muffin.
Often, they have egg yolks baked into the middle, giving a kind of lunar radiance to the center of the cake. The yolk is said to be the cake's "moon". Outside the yolk is a filling of some kind of paste or another, usually mung bean or red bean. Moon cakes are best served with endless cups of local tea.
Extra Info About this special Chinese Holiday...
If you happen to be in Taiwan during the festival, try to avoid northern cities as the pollution and cloud cover will make it nearly impossible to catch a glimpse of the full moon. Do your best to make it southward for the full experience.
Also, moon cakes are awesome (I can't resist a good egg yolk), so be sure to take a few home as gifts if you make in time for the festival. However, the most important thing to know to make your Chinese Moon Festival go smoothly is to simply be ready to eat.
Happy Chinese Moon Festival!