The Origin Of Mooncake, The Chinese Sweet Treat
Image Credit: Moon Cake

Mooncakes are made with a sweet pastry filled with red bean or sesame paste. Intricate patterns symbolising harmony and longevity adorn the outside. Chinese people consider the Mid-Autumn Festival an excuse to congregate and eat these sweet treats. 

The mooncake originated in ancient times, during a triumphant period for China. The Mongols succeeded in invading China in the 13th century. The Emperor Kublai Khan founded the Yuan dynasty, which resulted in an oppressive regime. It became the rule for Mongolians to guard the homes of all Chinese people. A confidant of an opposing leader, Liu Bowen, suggested that a rebellion be organised during the Mid-Autumn Festival and conspired that mooncakes be distributed to every Chinese resident to signify blessings for the longevity of the Mongol emperor. Each cake contained a note asking for the Mongols to be killed. None of the Mongols ate mooncakes, and so the conspiracy was successful and the Mongols were overthrown.

Before the mooncake, around 3000 years ago, there was the Taishi cake during the Shang Dynasty and the Zhou Dynasty. The Tang Dynasty started the tradition of eating mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival. It became more common during the Ming and the Qing Dynasties. Mooncakes were even mentioned in the ‘Southern Song Dynasty Chronicle’. 

The most commonly found mooncake, also called the Cantonese style, is thick and round. The top crust of these mooncakes has Chinese characters symbolising positivity and sometimes the name of the manufacturer. Fillings include red bean, lotus bean or jujube paste. Besides these pastes, other ingredients are also included in the filling, like salted duck egg yolks, nuts and seeds. 

Rabbits are often used as motifs on boxes in which mooncakes are stored or gifted. Some bakeries even sell miniature rabbit-shaped cakes, which are popular with children.

Apart from their general significance, mooncakes also represent happiness. This comes from the tradition of Chinese people coming together to celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival together. 

Mooncakes flavours differ from region to region. Regional variants include chao shan mooncakes (dome-like in shape), snow skin mooncakes from Hong Kong (with a green crust) and suzhou mooncakes (savoury) are also common. In Singapore and Malaysia, durian paste mooncakes are eaten. Non-traditional fillings like chocolate and custard are popular, too. More recently, mooncakes have become more elaborate and decorative; these demand higher prices. Their popularity has only risen and they are now easy to find at Asian supermarkets across the world, especially during the Chinese New Year.