mooncake and the chinese lunar goddess

medium: watercolor

Mooncakes, 月饼

One of the most beloved Chinese desserts is mooncake, or yuebing (月饼). Mooncakes are traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival on the lunar calendar’s eighth month.

Different regions have their own variations of this soft, decadent pastry with them boast a plethora of shapes, sizes, flavors, and fillings. The popular Cantonese-style mooncake dons a patterned, golden crust and envelopes a dense, lotus seed paste filling. A salted egg yolk often sits in the middle of the filling, reminiscent of a full moon in the sky. Hong Kong snow skin mooncake has a chewy, mochi skin filled with creamy custard. Five nuts mooncake pays tribute to its name by being stuffed with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, sesame seeds, and olive kernels. Savory Suzhou meat mooncake has a flaky crust filled with minced pork. The variations are truly endless, covering all spectrums of flavor notes and textural sensations.

The Legend of Chang’e (嫦娥)

One Mid-Autumn festival legend tells the story of Chang’e (嫦娥) and how she became the goddess of the moon. In ancient times, it is said that there were ten suns hanging in the sky, scorching the humans on earth, forcing their crops to wither away and wells to run dry. The husband of Chang’e, Hou Yi, was a skilled archer who shot down nine of the ten suns and returned harmony on Earth. For his good deed, the gods gave him an elixir of immortality that served as his gateway to heaven. But unwilling to separate from his beloved wife, Hou Yi stored the elixir away.

Hou Yi’s apprentice, Peng Meng, caught wind of this magic elixir. He yearned for eternal life and decided to steal this blessing for himself. Chang’e caught the greedy apprentice in his act and in frantic desperation to stop him, swallowed the pill. She floated up towards the sky and watched the world shrink beneath her dangling feet. 

In order to stay close to her husband, Chang’e chose to reside on the moon. Now, people pay tribute to the moon goddess by eating mooncakes and admiring the full moon during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Who knows, maybe you’ll spot Chang’e drifting around the gray planetary mass, looking longingly at the place she once called home. 

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