East Asian Autumn Festival Foods

The Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the Eighth Month of the Lunar Calendar, a major harvest festival where folks celebrate the full moon and give thanks for the bountiful harvest. It is considered one of the MAJOR festivals in East Asia and in many parts of Southeast Asia.

The Autumn Festival this year falls on Friday, September 13th, 2019.

Instead of going through the cultural aspects of the Autumn Festival – which is very interesting in its own right, but will also require a lot more reading on your part – I will be doing a very brief, picture-led rundown of the special foods consumed by each of the three major East Asian cultures during this very special festival. Because I aim to be very brief, I will skipping each food item’s historical backstory and/or cultural significance.

Proviso 1: I will only be covering East Asia as I am East Asian and that’s what I am most familiar with. That, and a MyTake has a 20-picture limit, so I have limited pictorial real estate.

Pingxi Sky Lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival in Taiwan
Pingxi Sky Lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival in Taiwan

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Chinese

In China, this festival is known as 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié) which translates to Mid-Autumn Festival. In Hong Kong and Cantonese speaking communities, it is known as 中秋節 (zung1 cau1 zit3). It is also known as the Harvest Moon Festival.

The number one, most popular, must-eat food item for Chinese communities is 月饼 (yuèbǐng) in Mandarin, 月餅 (jyut6 beng2) in Cantonese.

In English, it is called a Mooncake.

Despite their name, mooncakes are not “Cakes”, at least in the Western sense of the word.
It would be more accurate to say that they are pastries.

The original, and thus traditional, mooncake is a round pastry, with a doughy crust and a sweet or savory filling.

The most iconic of traditional mooncakes – and many consider it THE original – is the Lotus Seed Paste with Salted Egg Yolk Mooncake. The salted egg yolk – which represents the full moon – in the mooncake is the egg yolk from a Salted Duck Egg, which is traditional Chinese food item made by soaking duck eggs in brine.

In my experience, very few non-Asians enjoy eating traditional mooncakes.

Firstly, the combination of the sweetness from the Lotus Seed Paste and the salty and umami-ness from the Salted Egg Yolk is one taste combination that is very rarely found outside Asian cuisine. The average (non-Asian) American will not have tried either of those two things on their own, let alone together. Combine both those things, and you get a taste combination that may seem completely alien to the average (non-Asian) American.

Secondly, the filling is dense – not at all what non-Asians usually associate with food labeled as “cake”.

Note: China is a huge place. There are eight different Chinese regional cuisines or schools of cooking in China. Similarly, mooncakes vary by region. The most popular mooncake, by far, the one that is most known outside of Asia, and the one which I have described above, is the Guangdong (Cantonese) mooncake. See picture below:

The Traditional Lotus Seed Paste and Salted Egg Yolk Mooncake
The Traditional Lotus Seed Paste and Salted Egg Yolk Mooncake

Now, the thing is, many health-conscious Chinese consider the traditional mooncake to be a stealthy calorie bomb.

The Traditional Lotus Seed Paste and Salted Egg Yolk Mooncake above has about 790 calories.

Yes, you’re not actually supposed to be eating the entire mooncake. People generally cut up the mooncake into slices and have a couple of slices with tea.

Still, that fact doesn’t stop mooncake makers from coming up with Snowskin Mooncakes, which are often touted as “healthier”, in the sense that they contain less calories.

The first difference is that Snowskin Mooncakes don’t need to be baked.
Its “crust” or “skin” is made from glutinous rice flour and is chewy and soft, and is commonly eaten cold, hence: snowskin.

The second difference is that Snowskin Mooncakes do away with the Salted Egg Yolk as mentioned above (thus making it “healthier”, with less calories) – although you’ll still be able to find snowskin mooncakes that have Salty Egg Yolks in them if you really want to chow down on one – and has a much wider variety of fillings. We’re talking about matcha (Japanese green tea), red bean, lotus seed paste, black sesame, taro, custard, chocolate, and as many ice-cream flavors as you can think of.

Häagen-Dazs mooncakes: Snowskin mooncakes with Häagen-Dazs ice-cream filling
Häagen-Dazs mooncakes: Snowskin mooncakes with Häagen-Dazs ice-cream filling

Pomelo is popular during the Mid-Autumn Festival. It's a huge citrus fruit that usually weighs about 1 to 2 kilograms (2.2 – 4.4 lbs). It tastes like a mild grapefruit, sweet but without the bitterness that can be common in grapefruit.

Pomelo, written in Chinese, is 柚子 (yòu zi), where 柚 is a homonym for “Bless” , and when taken together, the name of the fruit can mean “Bless the son”.

What the flesh of the pomelo looks like after you take it out from the rind and remove the pith
What the flesh of the pomelo looks like after you take it out from the rind and remove the pith

Taro first started being eaten as a Mid-Autumn Festival food during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911).

Peel the skin off the taro and you’re good to go
Peel the skin off the taro and you’re good to go

There is a belief that Duck at this time of the year are neither too thin nor too fat, and thus offers the best taste and flavor compared to other months. How the duck is prepared varies by region and provinces.

Roast duck
Roast duck

The Mid-Autumn Festival is Hairy Crab harvest season; hairy crabs are a sought-after delicacy. You can find them at many a Mid-Autumn Festival dinner, steamed and dressed with ginger and vinegar.

Steamed Hairy Crabs, served with ginger and vinegar
Steamed Hairy Crabs, served with ginger and vinegar

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Korean

In Korea, this festival is known as 추석 (Chuseok, a Sino-Korean word, deriving from 秋夕, which means Autumn Evening) or 한가위 (Hangawi, a pure Korean word).

The most iconic food for Chuseok is 송편 , or Songpyeon.

Songpyeon is a kind of tteok (떡: rice cake). They are stuffed with sweet fillings such as sweetened sesame seeds, honey, or sugar, and with nuts and grains. Traditionally, they are steamed on a bed of pine needles.

Songpyeon and their fillings
Songpyeon and their fillings

For Chuseok, many varieties of Jeon (전) are prepared. Jeon is a general name for all foods that were seasoned, then coated in wheat flour and egg wash before being pan fried.

There are many kinds of jeon:

pajeon (파전) – made of scallions
buchujeon (부추전) – made of garlic chives
kimchijeon (김치전) – made of kimchi
aehobakjeon (애호박전) – made of Korean zucchini
baechujeon (배추전) – made of Nappa cabbage

Jeon: you want variety, you get variety
Jeon: you want variety, you get variety

Japchae (잡채) is made with various namul (나물: leaf-or-stem-style vegetables) and beef, and glass noodles (당면). Originally, japchae was prepared without the glass noodles.

Japchae, translates literally to mix of vegetables
Japchae, translates literally to mix of vegetables

Galbi-jjim (갈비찜) is braised short ribs. The sauce has a tangy aroma –soy sauce with garlic, sesame oil, onions, the sweet essence of jujube – and is definitely a crowd-pleaser for many.

Galbi-jjim, a hearty dish
Galbi-jjim, a hearty dish

Toran-guk (토란국) is a soup made from taro. This soup is a combination of savory broth, tender beef brisket, and soft, starchy taro.

Taro, once again features
Taro, once again features

Hangwa (한과) translates to Korean confectionery and is a catch-all term for a plethora of slightly sugary confectioneries. Great with brewed tea.

Hangwa, take your pick
Hangwa, take your pick

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Japanese

In Japan, this festival is known as 月見 (Tsukimi), which translates literally to Moon Watching/Viewing.

The most popular food for Tsukimi is Tsukimi dango.

Dango is a round dumpling made from a mixture of non-glutinous rice flour, glutinous rice flour, and water. They are then steamed and served in a variety of ways.

The Tsukimi version is plain white, to resemble/represent the full moon.

You can serve them in a variety of ways. I like my Tsukimi dango with sweet red bean paste, white/brown sugar with soy sauce, and matcha (Japanese green tea) paste/syrup. Those flavors are pretty standard. I know that Kansai-style Tsukimi dango is carefully coated with red bean paste.

 Tsukimi dango, the most popular food during Tsukimi
Tsukimi dango, the most popular food during Tsukimi

Because of the Japanese legend of rabbits living on the moon, there is also a rabbit variant to the Tsukimi dango:

Rabbit Tsukimi Dango – too cute to be eaten?
Rabbit Tsukimi Dango – too cute to be eaten?

Once again, Taro features.
One can include taro in any number of dishes:

Taro with Japanese mustard spinach and fried tofu simmered in a soy-based sauce
Taro with Japanese mustard spinach and fried tofu simmered in a soy-based sauce

Kuri gohan (栗ご飯) or chestnut rice.
Chestnuts in Japan are seasonal and make the quintessential autumn dish, like in Kuri gohan.

Kuri gohan, a nutty staple
Kuri gohan, a nutty staple


There is one very common everyday food associated with Tsukimi.

And that is a Fried or Poached Egg.
The reason is simple enough: the egg resembles the full moon.

Take for example, Tsukimi Soba:

Hot Soba (buckwheat) noodle soup with a raw egg on top
Hot Soba (buckwheat) noodle soup with a raw egg on top

Typically, fast food restaurants in Japan jump on the Tsukimi bandwagon and when that time of the year rolls around the corner, they add fried or poached eggs to their burger or sandwich options.

Every autumn in Japan, McDonald’s releases the Tsukimi Burger.
There’s really nothing particularly genius about it.
It’s: a burger with a perfectly round fried egg in the middle.

From left to right: Golden Tsukimi Burger, (Normal) Tsukimi Burger, Cheese Tsukimi, and Tsukimi Pie
From left to right: Golden Tsukimi Burger, (Normal) Tsukimi Burger, Cheese Tsukimi, and Tsukimi Pie

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Conclusion:

The Autumn Festival is here.
Enjoy the festival, enjoy the food.

I hope this has been an educational article for you.
Thank you for making it this far!

A Full Moon
A Full Moon
East Asian Autumn Festival Foods
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Most Helpful Guys

  • oddwaffle

    790cal for a mooncake? You must mean the mini-sized or 1/2 slice. The actual moon cake is about the size of a big man's fist and probably have like 1200cal because of the oil, sugar and fat (if old school).

    The snowskin isn't new. It's actually not better than the baked cake because glutinous rice has a lot of calories. It's a massive pack of sugar and can cause diabetic people to have a fit.

    Is this still revelant?
    • I just gleaned that information off of Google Images. It's been quite a while since I've eaten mooncakes - exactly because they aren't that healthy! And they're extremely pricey to boot! Mooncake manufacturers must make a killing during this time of the year!

  • JimRSmith

    I always enjoy your Takes because I come away, feeling I've learned a lot I never knew.

    You write in a particularly engaging way, too, that makes me want to get a flight to East Asia and experience some of this myself.

    Is this still revelant?
    • If you ever have the opportunity, you might try rocking up to a lantern festival, where people release hundreds and hundreds of paper lanterns into the sky. I think they're trying to get more people to use biodegradable materials for the very thin wire support inside the lanterns, so that eventually the wire support itself breaks down after a couple of weeks. Regardless, seeing all those paper lanterns go up into the sky, well, it's a pretty magical sight.

    • JimRSmith

      Thanks for MHO!

Most Helpful Girls

  • midnightmoon05

    Great MyTake!! Thank you.
    Awweeee need to get a pomelo. The beautiful lanterns and I think there were other food we shared when younger back home. I forget.

    Care to add the story behind this?
    The lady flying over the moon or something..
    I also heard of a war story about putting messages inside a cake.. thats how they won the war.

    Is this still revelant?
    • I really wanted to. Truly.
      But I don't have the time at the moment to write all of it down.
      One day. One day!

    • I could be wrong about these stories... so long ago..
      Sweet memories.

  • yikeserino

    Omg Japchae! My absolute favorite! Super easy to make too!

    Is this still revelant?

What Girls & Guys Said

143
  • BrittBratt2416

    Most of that looks poppin'! Just take me there, the food looks amazing, so delicioso! I think the only thing I won't really eat though is anything that has to do with fish or crab unless it's stuffed/mixed up in sushi... then yeah, bet otherwise I'm not touching it.

  • saeyamazaki

    Oh my god, I'm so excited, Tomorrow is going to be so fun!

    • Unless you're my married friend, who says she feels blue whenever 추석 and 설날 roll around because she has to prepare a lot of food and do a lot of stuff for her in-laws. For her, I think it's clearly a case of 명절 증후군, the poor lady!

  • aialex

    I love the autumn festival. The lanterns are romantic and the mooncakes become daily meal 😂

    • Well, go easy on the mooncake :D

    • aialex

      But they have lots of flavors! Some are great, others should just stay to their original flavor 😂

    • Try a slice from each flavor :D

    • Show All
  • Thanks for this- great as always. From my time in Korea, I can confirm that it's really big there.

  • Swat_

    Egg yolk is really special, but it had me throwing up. 😅

    Nice mytake!

    • It's somewhat of an acquired taste. Salted egg yolk is a common food item in Chinese communities the world over - it's in mooncakes, glutinous rice dumplings, various pastries (for example, in a "salted egg yolk lava" pastry) and some people consume half a salted duck's egg when eating congee - but obviously, it's not that healthy.

  • Tulips11

    I can't eat most of these items lol being a vegetarian. But the moon cake looks good :)

    • You could try ice-cream mooncakes. Häagen-Dazs has been making ice-cream mooncakes for nigh on 20 years now!

  • Hamsteroids

    Omg this food looks amazing! It doesn’t help that I’m hungry right now either 😩

  • Femdomina

    I love east Asian food, definitely my favorite, especially Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
    Very interesting MyTake, and delicious pictures 😋

  • lumos

    Ahh this made me miss Japan. I should make some noodles with a bunch of veggies soon :)

  • AlienParasite

    Oh no... now I feel seriously hungry

  • Great mytake! Thank you for sharing!!

  • Such a nice article. Miss a lot of these foods 🥰

  • OlegZero6

    thanks god i am Turkish. If i were be in asia i would be died from hungry

  • Vesuvius87

    Yummy... thank you for sharing this

  • somethingcoolio

    I'm intrigued and hungry!

  • UnknownGagsUser

    Moon cakes they are too sweet

  • DovahKittyLady

    This makes me want to try these! Great take!

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