Tradition/Food – Chinese

Mooncakes on Chinese New Year

“Mooncakes represent the full moon, which is the beginning of spring for the Chinese. Mooncakes are round and with black or red bean paste and yolk in the middle representing the full yellow moon in the dark evening sky. Chinese will gather outside the full moon to delight themselves with the moon cake” –Lee Lee Wong


The moon cake has been around since the 13th century Ming Dynasty and was commonly eaten during the Mid- Autumn Festival. The story in which it originated can be found in “Traditional Chinese Folktales” in the section titled, “The Secret in the Moon Cake.”The ongoing battle between the China and Mongolia was a rough time for the native Chinese. The Mongolians patrolled the city and stationed themselves in almost every home. Through collaboration with an old friend, General Ju came up with an ingenious plan to overthrow Mongolian dictatorship. They decided to set up a booth at the central marketplace to sell their delicious moon cakes, whose sweet bean paste attracted a huge crowd. Every time they sold a moon cake, they would give out a “bonus” moon cake, which contained all of the same ingredients except for a red mark that decorated the top of the pastry. Inside every moon cake marked with a red dot was a tiny piece of rolled paper containing the memo, “On the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival, when you see bonfires in the hills above the city, kill the Mongol soldier in your house.” Sure enough, on the day of the Festival at the time specified, huge fires broke out and all the Mongol soldiers quartered in Chinese family’s homes were killed as planned. The Mongol general made a last attempt to control the chaos by ordering the few remaining generals to fight. However, in the end, the Chinese prevailed and General Ju was hailed by the people. His victory earned him a seat on the Imperial Throne. Today, Chinese people eat moon cakes during the Mid- Autumn Festival. It is common for some to decorate their moon cakes with red coloring in honor of General Ju’s triumph over the Mongolians. The red is supposed to symbolize freedom and honor General Ju’s courageous efforts.

Like my mom said earlier, our family eats moon cakes around Chinese New Year. Since they are hard to make, we usually buy them at Chinese supermarkets in Flushing, Queens where my grandparents live and where we usually spend the New Year. Traditionally, moon cakes are eaten with tea. The moon cake is denser and richer than most Chinese pastries, since it contains rich products like the lotus seed paste. The saltiness of the yolk in the center balances the sweetness of the cake. The top of each cake has a Chinese imprint of a character, which usually represents the words “harmony” or “longevity,” and surrounding images for decoration, such as the moon or flowers. ( According to my mom, each cake is also expensive, starting off at $10 a moon cake (to feed one person), which is probably why they’re most commonly eaten during major Chinese holidays. I’m not sure whether or not people still eat moon cakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival because my family does not celebrate this holiday.

Annotation: Chin, Yin-Lien, Yetta Center, and Mildred Ross. Traditional Chinese Folktales. New York: An East Gate Book, 1989. 171-180.