A Taste of Mid-Autumn Traditions Around Southeast Asia

Not all mooncakes are created equal, and Mid-Autumn festivities are celebrated in a miscellany of ways around the Southeast Asian region. While Mid-Autumn celebrations have come to be inextricably linked with elaborate mooncake packaging and exquisite flavours such as avocado macadamia, the long-standing tradition of baking, eating and purchasing these delicacies provide a medium for coming together as a community as well. 

Mid-Autumn celebrations are a festive affair in many of Singapore’s neighbouring countries, with the different rituals and mooncake styles emblematic of the unique local cultures. Teapasar explores a few of the practices and celebratory styles that take place during the 8th lunar month.

Vietnam (Tết Trung Thu)

Tết Trung Thu takes on a slightly different meaning as a children’s festival in Vietnam, while other neighbouring countries have an emphasis geared towards familial celebrations and giving thanks for harvests. The lighthearted and convival spirit is reflected in dragon and lion dances performed by children donned in traditional costumes, or taking part in lantern parades with carp lanterns on hand. [1],[2]

 
Celebrations are held with two main types of mooncakes: with baked mooncakes (bánh thập cẩm) following the Cantonese-style mooncakes assembled with savoury proteins, lotus seeds and candied nuts, while their sticky rice counterparts (bánh dẻo) are traditionally made from pandan, taro or mung bean fillings. More interestingly, Vietnamese bakers display a preference for four salted egg yolks emblematic of the four phases of the moon. [3]

Sticky rice mooncakes (bánh dẻo) Image: Banh Thuan Phong

Japan (Tsukimi)

Japan’s Tsukimi celebrations are passed on from long standing traditions established during the Heian period (794 – 1185 CE), considered as the Golden Age of Japanese history. This period saw the flourishing of Japanese arts and the noble class’ dedication to aesthetics and literature including poetry, where the tradition of celebrating the harvest moon was coupled with contemplation, poetry recitals and music under the full moon. [4]


Moon dumplings (dango) are the quintessential dish during the festivities – plain white dumplings made using non-glutinous rice flour and sweets made of mochi. Extra attention is given to the assembling and presentation of the moon dumplings, where fifteen rice dumplings (representing the significance of the date) are stacked in a pyramid shape and served alongside decorations of pampas grass (susuki), bush clover (hagi) and rabbits reminiscent of good luck charms and popular Japanese folklore recounted during the celebrations.

Dangos stacked in the shape of a pyramid. Image: Just One Cookbook

Korea (Chuseok)

Alluding to one of South Korea’s biggest holidays and celebrations, this harvest festival (Chuseok) spans across three days during the 8th  lunar month with millions of Koreans travelling back to their hometowns. These celebrations are accompanied by the ritual of grave sweeping and paying respects to ancestors, along with thanksgiving and ceremonial rites conducted in homes.


An array of delicacies are enjoyed during Chuseok, including dishes made from freshly harvested rice and half moon rice cakes (songpyeon). These rice cakes are characterised by sweet fillings of black sesame, red beans or chestnuts, boasting a chewy and nutty texture with subtle hints of pine tree flavour from steaming rice cakes over a layer of pine needles.

Half-moon rice cakes (songpyeon) with sesame seeds, red beans, brown sugar, and nuts 
Image: Kimchimari

Singapore (Zhōngqiū Jié)

Drawing on the traditions and rituals from China, Singapore celebrates the end of the Autumn harvest with lantern parades, riddles, and storytelling sessions revolving around popular tales and origins of the Mid-Autumn celebrations. Students may find a familiar resonance with 李白’s (Li Bai’s) poem from the Chinese textbooks in the past, a poem reflecting the longings of home by the acclaimed Chinese poet. [5],[6]

静夜思

床前明月光
疑是地上霜
举头望明月
低头思故乡

Quiet Night Thoughts

I wake, and moonbeams play around my bed,
Glittering like feathery frost to my wandering eyes;
Up towards the glorious moon I raised my head,
Then lay me down – and thoughts of home arise.

Mooncakes can be found in three main styles locally – where most are familiarly acquainted with the Cantonese-style mooncakes originating from the Guangdong province. Egg yolks and nuts are encased within dense fillings of lotus paste and wrapped in delicate pastry skin, while the lesser known Teochew style showcases an interior of sweetened yam filling blanketed in layers of flaky pastry crust. The savoury Hokkien or Suzhou style mooncakes provide a contrast with its rich savoury pork filling made with a doughy exterior. [7]

Head over to teapasar’s IG for our recommendations on the best pairing for mooncakes and teas this season.

Tl;dr: A visual summary of the assortment of mooncake-styles consumed within the region, choose your pick!


[1] “The Mid Autumn Festival: Celebrations in Other Countries”. 2020. https://www.migoco.com/blogs/blog/the-mooncake-festival-celebrations-in-other-asian-countries

[2] “Tet Trung Thu: Mid Autumn Festival in Vietnam”. n.d. https://asiasomeday.com/vietnam/en/tet-trung-thu-mid-autumn-festival-in-vietnam/

[3] “Bánh Trung Thu: From Traditional Festive Fare to Asia’s Answer to Fruitcake”. 2016. https://saigoneer.com/saigon-food-culture/7966-b%C3%A1nh-trung-thu,-from-traditional-festive-fare-to-the-asian%E2%80%99s-answer-to-fruitcake-a-street-food-history

[4] “Poetry and Processions: The Daily Life of the Kuge in the Heian Court”.n.d. https://academic.mu.edu/meissnerd/witt.html

[5] “Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival Poems”. 2021. https://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/mid-autumn-festival-poems.htm 

[6]  “3 Classic Chinese Poems You Should Know”.  n.d. http://chinese-at-ease.com/3-classic-chinese-poems-about-the-moon-you-should-know/ 

[7] “Six Types of Mooncakes You Can Find in Southeast Asia”. 2020. https://www.airasia.com/explore/assets/bltec034331021ac363/6-types-of-mooncakes-you-can-find-in-southeast-asia

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