The Sunday Mail
By Shanel Liu
Vice President at Chamber of Chinese Enterprises in Zimbabwe (CCEZ)
Managing Director at Hengshun Zhongsheng Group Zimbabwe
The Chamber of Chinese Enterprises in Zimbabwe (CCEZ) is a non-profit organization; its scope is to engage business and economic activities between China and Zimbabwe.
Most people have heard about the Chinese New Year but little is known about the Mid-Autumn Festival. Traditionally, it marks the end of the autumn harvest which dates back to the Zhou dynasty, over three thousand years ago on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar.
The celebration of the Mid-autumn festival has a long history. In ancient times, the emperors would worship the Sun in spring, and the Moon in autumn. It became an established festival during the Song Dynasty over one thousand years ago. The day of the festival always falls on a full moon, hence the name the Moon festival. This year it falls on the 13th of September 2019.
In Chinese culture, the circular shape of the moon symbolizes wholeness and unity. A full moon represents unity and prosperity for the whole family. And in a typical Chinese family where reunions are held as one of the most important traditions even in modern times, Mid-Autumn Festival is highly revered as a day of obligation for family members to come together for a meal, and share Moon cakes. On the day of the festival, Chinese public parks in the city light up with special displays and lanterns; as well as cultural shows and parades. The Dragon and lion dance are popular during the festival. Incense is burned in temples to honor the ancestors and the moon goddess. Bright lanterns are hung high from poles while floating, candle-powered lanterns are launched into the sky.
There are specific foods that best symbolize every traditional festival in Chinese culture, and one such delicacy during this event is the moon cake. Like turkey during Thanksgiving in the United States, the moon cake is the dish of choice during the festival.
The traditional Moon cakes are typically round to symbolize the full moon and reunion, although some are square , they are baked, palm-size cakes made from a sweet, dense pastry, and filled with a delicious red bean, or lotus seed paste,topped with an pattern symbolizing good-luck sentiments like ‘longevity’ or tell good fortunes to come.
Moon cakes are considered great gifts during the festival. As commercialized as holidays are in the rest of the World, the moon cakes go on sale weeks in advance of the festival. Almost every supermarket and restaurant in the city takes advantage of the hype by pushing out moon cake gift sets, at prices ranging from CNY50- CNY500 ( $8-$77), for a set of 4 pieces. The average Chinese consumer is price-sensitive as they have most likely moved up in the middle class bracket in recent years. As such, they value money very dearly and tend to compare and choose often. Given the competitiveness within the Chinese market, moon cakes prices are very close to their production price. As a result, either the profits are minimal in lieu of mass-scale volume, or more elaborate and pushes the limits based on the ingredients, and presentation to win over the premier market the corporate clients. Corporate clients are often gifted with cases of high end moon cakes as a show of appreciation.
Moon cakes have become more expensive over the years with 5-star international hotels and luxury brands jumping into the game, offering their own in-house variations with creative colorful packaging, selling their moon cakes for as much as $100 for a set.
Different parts of China have their own unique version of moon cakes and people’s personal tastes determine their choices. Of the various flavors I have tasted over the years, a favorite is the moon cake with red bean paste, whilst my husband and two sons prefer the sweet lotus seed paste with salty duck egg-yolk. Despite the cakes’ small size, the moon cakes are often prepared with lard, so they are really filling. One lotus seed paste with duck egg-yolk moon cake contains about 800 calories the equivalent of about two hot dogs. Personally, I will not eat more than one full cake in a sitting, unless I am prepared to run five kilometers just to burn the extra calories. In my household, I buy a few different moon cakes according to everyone’s personal tastes, slicing each into six or eight pieces each (the numbers 6 and 8 are auspicious in Chinese culture and a tradition during the Mid-Autumn Festival to comply). Oolong or jasmine teas are the beverages of choice during the festival as they compliment the flavors.
The moon is a symbol of reunion, bringing families together to sit down and celebrate unity every year in love and harmony. No matter how fast the world evolves, the love and devotion to our own cultural heritage will never change.
Where to find the moon cakes in Harare?
Great news: You do not have to be in China to enjoy Moon cakes! The Shangri-La Chinese restaurant serves Moon cakes with the red bean filling and a five seeds paste during the festival. The restaurant will be gifting diners with complementary moon cakes on the 13th of September and the week leading up to the festival, for locals to experience a part of the festival. Shangri-La Restaurant is located at 155 Enterprise Road, Chisipite in Harare. +263 4 443263