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article imageOp-Ed: Moon Festival is Moon Cake time, with good fortune, hope, wishes Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Sep 27, 2016 in Food
San Francisco - Autumn brings familiar occasions to mind, like back to school, Fleet Week and of course, Halloween. Yet, in the Asian community the Festival of the Moon (or Mid-Autumn harvest) is not about anything scary as in Halloween, but more about good fortune.
"This is the last one," said Rose Dong as she opened a red square tin that had kept four moon cakes. But now there was only one, individually wrapped and sealed. She handed this reporter the very last, saying, "get some tea and enjoy." Naturally, I was eager to try the ornately made round cake, with letters-symbols baked into the crust.
An architect-designer by profession, in addition to her work in sales, Rose cherishes the opportunity to share and talk about culture, literature, art, architecture and history. And what better way to do so than with food?
A gourmet cook, Rose utilizes her culinary talents and appreciation to help build bridges of understanding between people. Originally from Boston, for more than 40 years she has made San Francisco her home. Its eclectic array of diversity provides stimulating and crucial cultural dialog. Yet, amid the tourism, the Asian heritage San Francisco contains is often eclipsed by the eccentric antics that have made San Francisco a popular place.
Moon Cakes are a delicacy and something treasured during the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festivals through ou...
Moon Cakes are a delicacy and something treasured during the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festivals through out China and most of Asia.
When the tea was ready, Rose sliced the cake into quarter-wedges. She took one slice and because I had not had any lunch that day, I ate the rest in one gulp.
"Slow down, eat one slice at a time. This is to be shared. These are a delicacy; for a special occasion," she exclaimed. Then Rose explained that moon cakes are served especially at Moon Festival time — or Mid-Autumn Festival. Associated with the harvest and abundance, "The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important of Chinese festivals."
I responded a bit nonchalantly, that I would check out the festivities, thinking that like the annual Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, the Moon Festival was for the entire month. "Well, you missed it, she said. "The celebration for San Francisco was on Sept. 10." Rose urged me not to take so much as granted, as she went on to say that "Moon Cakes are sort of like what fruitcakes are to Christmas, only they have more meaning and significance. A lot of care and effort goes into the making of Moon Cakes."
Usually, each cake has a full egg yolk. "Egg yolks symbolize wholeness and fertility," said Rose. Some cakes are made with two or three salted duck-egg yolks. "The more egg yolks, the more expensive the cake. And if made with lotus seeds or lotus seed paste, the price goes higher."
Usually  most moon cakes are dense  made with one egg yolk and contain seeds or nuts. Sometimes  a m...
Usually, most moon cakes are dense, made with one egg yolk and contain seeds or nuts. Sometimes, a moon cake can have more than one egg yolk. Whether made with one egg yolk or three, typically, a moon cake symbolizes abundance, the fullness of life and the hope for good fortune and happiness.
There are many versions of moon cakes not only in China but throughout Asia. The one most common in the United States, especially in San Francisco, is the Cantonese-style, with the duck-egg yolk and lotus-seed.
"Moon Cakes were a part of my growing up, here in San Francisco," said artist Cynthia Tom. "It is the only thing I can remember my grandmother giving us as a present." Cynthia is currently showing an installation of her most recent work at Route One Gallery in Marin at Point Reyes Station, entitled "Discards & Variances — Tales from a Chinese American Family." In the exhibit she remembers and honors her grandmother Hom Shee Mock. "She didn't speak English and most of my cousins didn't speak Chinese, but every year during the fall and at Chinese New Year, she would give us Moon Cakes and these kind of cookies with sweet black bean paste inside. (A home-made/handmade type of sweets.) That was our non-verbal Chinese communication and passing on tradition," Cynthia said.
In 2010  artist Cynthia Tom was given a set of wooden moon cake molds to use for her art exhibit in ...
In 2010, artist Cynthia Tom was given a set of wooden moon cake molds to use for her art exhibit in Chinatown, which was on display that year from June until September.
Courtesy of Cynthia Tom, artist
Very proud and blessed by Asian holiday traditions, like the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival, six years ago, Cynthia was commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission to create a storefront window installation in the window of an empty building. It was part of an artistic collective showcasing memories of San Francisco's Chinatown. "I created the 'Chinatown Memory Shop' at 950 Grant Ave (which is the main thoroughfare of Chinatown). The owners of the building lent me their very old Moon Cakes molds made of wood," she said. Cynthia used them for her 'Memory Shop' exhibit-installation back in 2010. The exhibit was on display from June until September, just before the Mid-Autumn festival on the 22nd that year.
Mid-Autumn celebrations vary from year to year. The festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar (in the East) with full moon at night, corresponding to the late September to early October of the Gregorian calendar (in the West) with full moon at night. "Autumn Moon Festival celebrations have been held throughout Asia for well over 1,000 years. said Ray Law, staff member at SF Supervisor Katy Tang's office. This holiday is a time to reflect upon the bounty of the summer harvest, the fullness of the moon, and the myth of the immortal moon Goddess, Chang-O," he said.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal in 2009, tracing the exact origins of the Moon Cake and the many legends behind it can be "impossible to pinpoint." There are an abundance of explanations in folklore, varying from region to region. While as Law said, the myth of the moon goddess is the main one, the account of cakes being used as a way to communicate to rebels fighting against the Mongols on the 15th day of the eighth month is another explanation.
Regardless of the folklore behind it, the Asian community in San Francisco likes to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival and its homage to the moon. Celebrations extend beyond the confines of Chinatown as the Sunset District on the Westside of town near Golden Gate Park commemorates its own celebrations.
The Sunset is the largest district within the city of San Francisco, with a population of over 85,000. As noted by Wikipedia, half of the Sunset's residents are Asian American, mostly of Chinese birth and descent. The Moon Festival in the Sunset has been celebrated in one form or another, since the mid-to late 1990's (unofficially) and then officially since about 2004. "Moon Festival is a time for social gatherings," said John Barry. He and his wife May Pon-Barry have lived in the Sunset for almost 40 years. "It is a great time for banquets," he said. "While my wife May enjoys moon cakes very much, (sort of like having Dim Sum) I enjoy all the feasts with dishes like steamed crab and fresh baked duck, served family style."
While Westerners might not take to Taro root or river snails, a family's table at Mid-Autumn Festival time does have things in common that most would recognize as part of fall. Such as for example, dishes made with pumpkin and of course, lots of produce from the garden.
"The Moon Festival is often considered a 'Chinese Thanksgiving' because of its celebration of gratitude and inclusion of abundant food – including the popular moon cake. "The round moon cake looks exactly like the full moon in the night sky," he said. "More importantly, it symbolizes a family get-together and reflects the family culture and the special importance Chinese people attaching to the family reunion. The Autumn Moon Festival is a fun, family-friendly event, said Law. He was among the organizers of this years' celebration. "It is where attendees have a taste of the cultural diversity of the Sunset District," Law said.
For this reporter, and hopefully for all those who have the opportunity to taste a moon cake, it brings another occasion to share in a celebration of the season of Autumn. For even if expressed in another language, culture or custom, universally, the fall is a season of abundance, bounty and thanksgiving.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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