I first heard of the word “mooncake” back in my 5 & Up days when my man, Atom Araullo reported about the history of Mooncake Festival in China. As I can recall, it was the time when the people of China didn’t want their emperor anymore. So they passed around messages from one household to another by way of writing down their plans on paper and inserting it inside breads. They had come up with a plan of revolution scheduled on the next full moon. When that time came, all of them got out from their houses and attacked the palace which gave China their freedom from the cruel emperor.
From then on, people from the Republic of China commemorate that glorious event annually and called it the Mooncake Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival. It is just like Christmas for them, making families get together for a festive dinner with mooncake as the main entrée.
Mooncake can be as large as a family-sized pizza or as small as a junior-sized siopao. It has plenty of filling inside with salted egg at its center. Some people find it overly-stuffed yet I find it hěn hǎo chī! It is packed with nutritious sweet bean paste, various nuts, dried fruits, sesame seeds, and even sweet ham. It is a wonder in every bite – starting from the flaky crust to the smooth filling until the chewy bits of kernel! A piece of mooncake can be a complete meal for me!
But this piece of pastry is not just food. It carries with it a lot of symbolism as it carried the secret messages years ago! First and foremost is its round shape symbolizing completeness and unity. My lăoshī friend Andy said that he would travel miles by train just to be with his family during the Mooncake Festival. Eating mooncake together with the family is a must-must for Chinese, reminding them of their ancestors’ unity to bring back the people’s voice.
Second is the salted egg symbolizing the full moon. It has been customary to Chinese belief that the moon represents brightness and gentleness. That is why there are plenty of tales and poems about the moon in Chinese literature and even songs! Another lăoshī friend Jenny even translated a moon song to me which made me fell in love with it that I still sing it until now though I mispronounce its lyrics!
Third is the blend of flavors – sweet, salty, and spicy symbolizing the course of life. Sometimes we are happy but sometimes we are sad. Sometimes good things come to us but sometimes bad things come to us. This just encourages us that no matter what kind of fate life gives, we have to accept it wholeheartedly. Just like what another lăoshī friend always tells me, “Smile! You’re beautiful!”, we have to be optimistic at all times! For if good things never last, as well as the bad does.
Lastly is the special character imprinted on top which means longevity or harmony. If somebody gives you a mooncake, it means that that person values you very much that he/she has given a part of his/her life to you in wishing you long life and peace. So to lăoshī friend Zhou Yuan who gave me my mooncake last year, thank you so much for regarding me as your friend! 🙂 Though we had struggles in communicating (literally) well before, we understood each other. I know deep down that you had loved us and still wanted to bond with us but time didn’t allow us to be. If ever you might read this post, I want you to know that you are still remembered and that I wish you well wherever life may lead you! Stay sweet, beautiful Zhou Yuan! 🙂 And may you guide and teach more kids in loving Math! 🙂
And that ends my mooncake story, folks! Not just a piece of bread, not just a piece of pastry, not just a piece of cake! It is more than food bringing peace to the ancient Chinese people from a long time ago and keeping families together for the modern Chinese people nowadays. As Filipinos who already has that rooted inclination to close family ties, it is good to be reminded of having meals together with the family. Just like the campaign for a noodle brand here in the Philippines, KAINANG PAMILYA MAHALAGA!