In Vietnam mooncakes are a celebration food most commonly eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival (Tết Trung Thu) and are often given as gifts to family, friends and business associates. The sharing of a mooncake cut into slices is a symbolic act denoting kinship between those receiving a portion.
Origin of Vietnamese mooncakes
Like many traditions in Vietnam, the practice of eating of mooncakes originates in China, as does the Mid-Autumn festival itself. The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated by many cultures in Asia, generally on the same day which is the 15th Day of the 8th Lunar cycle. This is the date of the oriental harvest moon, when the moon is full during the traditional harvest period in Central China. The date when this occurs in the Western calendar changes each year and depending on the year and falls sometime between late September and early October. The festival is associated with numerous beliefs from Chinese folk religions related to the moon and its connection to the fertility of both people of the land. The celebration is believed to have been first observed during the Zhang Dynasty in China, around 1,600 BC, and has carried on in one form or another since then.
The first record of mooncakes between eaten during the Mid-Autumn festival appears more than 2,000 years later during the Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279). The cakes have various different layers of symbolism. The outer crust bears Chinese characters and pictures of animals, each with their own meaning relating to Chinese folk beliefs. According to legend, the cakes were also used by revolutionaries in China during the 14th Century to pass messages relating to a plot to overthrow the Yuan Dynasty of Mongol rulers dating back to Kublai Khan.
Mooncakes in Vietnamese Culture
In Vietnam the Mid-Autumn Festival has taken on its own meaning and traditions separate to those of those of the Chinese, and the receipes and meaning of mooncakes have also altered. In Vietnam the Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as Children’s Day. It is traditionally celebrated with processions of children carrying distinctive five-star lanterns at night under the moonlight. The lanterns relate to the legend of Cuội, who floated to the moon whilst trying to save a sacred banyan tree from doing the same. The procession of lanterns is intended to guide Cuội back to Earth.
Types of Vietnamese mooncakes
Vietnamese mooncakes come in a variety of shapes, most commonly square or round, have numerous different fillings, but the biggest difference between all those varieties is how they are made. The most commonly eaten type of mooncake in Vietnam is baked. Baked mooncakes have a crust a bit like the shortcrust pasty on an English pork pie. After baking the mooncakes need to be left a day or two for the crust to become moist. The other type of mooncake eaten in Vietnam has a soft covering made from a sticky rice mixture. This type of mooncake is filled with pre-cooked ingredients and is not baked or steamed, and can be eaten straight away.
Numerous fillings are used in Vietnamese mooncakes and the variety has grown in recent years as tastes have changed and a wider variety of ingredients, such as chocolate, coffee and pistachio nuts, have become widely available. Traditionally, however, the most common two types of fillings where ones with five different kinds of crush nuts and seeds (lotus seeds, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, and sesame seeds) mixed with syrup and other ingredients, and mooncakes filled with a smooth paste made from lotus seeds. The addition of a salted egg in the middle of the cake, symbolic of the moon, is also a common feature of traditional mooncakes.
Location of Bánh trung thu Bảo Phương
Bánh trung thu Bảo Phương in Hanoi is one of the best known places in Vietnam to buy mooncakes. This bakery is located on the south side of West Lake in Hanoi.