Aug 30 2011

Mid-Autumn mooncakes and lanterns

Published by at 2:17 pm under Festivals


As Hungry Ghost Month draws to a close, Singapore shifts from feeding the spirits to feasting on Mid-Autumn Festival treats with family and friends. This fall festival is second only to Chinese New Year as the most colourful time of year to visit Chinatown and runs from August 30 to September 25.

Chinatown will be lit up all month.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional Chinese harvest celebration that dates back more than 3,000 years. Since this city-state has nary a square foot of farm land the festivities have been adapted to accommodate what Singaporeans do know: shopping and eating! All month long the narrow streets of Chinatown will be filled with markets selling barbecued meats, pomelos (the Chinese word for this fruit sounds like “blessing”) and, of course, mooncakes.

These delicate little pastries are so inextricably linked to the celebration that it’s often called the Mooncake Festival. A traditional mooncake is stamped with the Chinese character for “longevity” and filled with sweetened lotus seed paste and whole egg yolks to symbolise the full moon. As this is not a recipe for amateur bakers, most people buy mooncakes to give to their friends and co-workers. While a simple mooncake filled with less expensive bean paste may cost as little as S$2 at a Chinese bakery, many of Singapore’s five-star hotels sell luxury mooncakes with fillings like champagne truffle and bird’s nest cream. The price? S$50 and upwards for four pieces.

These mooncakes did not cost S$50.

If you do have an opportunity to sample a mooncake. don’t make the mistake of biting into a whole one (as an expat friend of mine learned the hard way); mooncakes are intensely rich and meant to be eaten as a small slice with unsweetened tea.

The other sign that the Mid-Autumn Festival has arrived is the colourful Chinese lanterns illuminating central Singapore from Clarke Quay to Outram Park. The light-up officially begins on August 30, with a street parade featuring traditional music, dragon dancers, and floats. Chinatown will then be lit up every night until September 25 and host festive events like lantern-decorating contests, street bazaars, and stage shows near the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Full event details can be found on the Chinatown Singapore website.

Lantern overload at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Of course, you don’t have to be in Singapore to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.  In the upcoming month mooncakes can be found anywhere with a sizable Chinese community and, as the Travelfish Saigon blogger recently wrote, is celebrated as Tet Trung Thu in Vietnam.

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