In America, there is Thanksgiving. In China (and Vietnam), they have the Mid-Autumn Festival. And in Korea, they have Chuseok. All of these are major harvest festivals for their respective countries. Both the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chuseok fall on next Monday, September 8th. The local Ethnic Foods Examiner has experienced Mid-Autumn Festival firsthand, and is about to experience her first Chuseok. Each festival has its own unique cake, which will be the focus of this article.
In China, there is the mooncake (Chinese “yuèbĭng”). Ah, the moon cake. This is possibly a love-or-hate cake. It is a very thick, very sweet cake that looks the size of a cupcake, but weighs about the size of a normal cake. They can be filled with everything from strawberries, to red bean, to -no kidding- sugared pork. They are typically decorative on the outside, often with a lotus flower. In Chinese culture, its round shape not only symbolizes the moon, but also unity and completeness. There is also a nice story behind it about a moon goddess named Chang’e, which one can read all about here. When in China, this Examiner was told that one must eat them (and sometimes make them) together with one's family and loved ones while looking at the moon. Single ladies can use this day to pray to the moon goddess for love.
Since China really only has mooncakes around the festival, no doubt it is the same locally. The best bet would be H-Mart in Catonsville. Also, according to Yelp.com, one might even find them in Hampden over at Spro Coffee. Try the blueberry or strawberry for sure, but only try the sugared pork if you dare!
Chuseok cakes, called songpyeon, seem to be a little more on the healthier side than mooncakes. They are also small cakes, but stuff with healthy foods like nuts, dates, or even beans. The “song” in songpyeon means “pine tree.” This seems to be the most interesting fact: these cakes are steamed over a bed of pine needles! The shape embodies two phases of the moon: full and half. The rice skin outside is round (full moon), but when stuffed and closed, looks like a leaf, or half-moon. They represent, respectively, the fall and rise of two ancient Korean kingdoms. Whereas the roundness of mooncakes represents unity in China, the half-moon in Korea represents a bright future. Like mooncakes, they are also eaten together with loved ones under the full moon.
These festival foods sound awesome! Where can one enjoy these goodies?
Want to eat mooncakes and songpyeon, or celebrate either (or both!) holidays? Your best bet for the food is H-Mart in Catonsville, Spro Coffee (mooncakes) in Hampden, and perhaps even Baltimore’s own Koreatown may have some songpyeon in stock. If you venture a little further out, you may find Korean Chuseok goodies in D.C./Virginia’s Koreatown. Also, a Brooklyn Park senior center will be throwing a Chuseok celebration in Glen Burnie
Are you a student? Towson University will throw an annual Mid-Autumn Festival celebration for students.
Can’t find a celebration? Throw your own Chuseok celebration with recipes here. Or check out a tasty Mid-Autumn moocake recipe here. They aren't the easiest, but no doubt would be fun to make with your friends and family.
中秋节快乐! 추석 즐겁게 보내세요!