It’s that time of year when those delectable, highly distinctive round cakes start popping up in almost every bakery and food store throughout Richmond. The Mid-Autumn Festival (and its abundant cake-based feasting) is almost here—but you don’t have to wait until September 24’s official full moon day to dive right in.
Moon cakes are a popular treat during the Mid-Autumn Festival. | Photo: pixabay.com/varintorn
Celebrated across Asia—in countries such as China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea and Japan—the festival traces its history to a time when successful harvests were vital to communities. The ancients believed that honouring the moon in the fall would help deliver bounties for all in the coming year, which traditionally meant offering fruits and treats to keep the moon content. And according to Chinese astronomy, the round moon during this time is the roundest moon among all twelve months—like a perfect circle. A perfect circle symbolizes gathering in unity, which is why people meet up at this time, eat moon cakes, and celebrate family togetherness.
These days, the festival isn’t just about giving thanks for the harvest; it’s also about families and friends gathering together to celebrate—much like North America’s Thanksgiving festivities. Today, heartfelt gatherings are the foundation of this annual event—along with sharing and diving into some special edible treats.
Over the centuries, moon cakes—in the shape of round, full moons—have become a Mid-Autumn Festival staple. These often ornate pastries typically have a thin, pie-like casing enclosing a sweet (or sometimes savoury) paste-like filling of taro, lotus seed, sweet bean, or a mixture of nuts and seeds. And although they might look small, they are deceptively filling: rich and dense, they’re perfect for sharing in small wedges rather than fully consuming on your own (unless you missed lunch).
If you’re wondering where to find them, don’t worry: it’s almost impossible to avoid moon cakes in Richmond at this time of year. If you’re a first-timer and you’re keen to sample them—individually or in pretty boxes that are perfect for gifting—peruse the tempting options and intriguing varieties at Maxim’s Bakery, Kam Do Bakery and Saint German Bakery among many others. You can also find them at grocery stores in Richmond such as PriceSmart and T&T Supermarket. Specialty moon cakes can also be ordered at Wild Sweets—their Chocolate 'Moon Cake' Bouchées Series is only available until September 23, or while supplies last.
The Chocolate 'Moon Cake' Bouchées Series. | Photo: Wild Sweets
Not just moon cakes
And if you’re feeling adventurous, you might also like to add some of the other specialty foods associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival. You can also find the special rice cakes Japanese and Korean cultures traditionally enjoy at this time of year, while dedicated pumpkin-based goodies (especially of the baked variety) are also common to see in local bakeries.
And alongside moon cakes, Chinese traditions include wine and treats flavoured with osmanthus, a plant that flowers abundantly in China at this time of year. If you’re planning to dine at some of Richmond’s Chinese restaurants this month, ask your server if there are any special Mid-Autumn items on the menu.
Where to celebrate
The festival isn’t only about eating, though. Richmond also has several celebratory Mid-Autumn events to check out. The following four are all being held on Saturday, September 22 or Sunday, September 23. Gather your friends and family together and check them out.
Lansdowne Centre mall is hosting a free-entry afternoon of festivities. Under the auspices of the Richmond Chinese Community Society, there will be cultural displays, lion dances, kung fu demonstrations—and, of course, plenty of moon cakes to nibble on. The city’s biggest Mid-Autumn Festival event, arrive early and plan to catch as much of it as possible.
Also on September 22 (from 5:30pm), the City Centre Community Centre (located at 5900 Minoru Boulevard) will be hosting a free, family-friendly event, complete with art stations, live music and treats. At 7:30pm, there will also be a lantern procession in nearby Minoru Park, with locals and visitors invited to join in the fun together. Click here for more information on these two events.
But if you’d prefer to be indoors––this is an autumn festival, after all––head to Aberdeen Centre for a special Saturday night concert. At 7:00pm, revered Canadian pianist Martin Mayer—a highly popular performer in China—will be playing well-known songs, original compositions, and Chinese favourites at the mall’s Showcase Pianos store. Tickets ($20 for adults; $10 for students) can be purchased here.
London Heritage Farm is also hosting a Harvest Moon Tea on September 22 & 23. Reserve a spot a head of time and indulge in their signature London Lady Tea, homemade scones, and a selection of desserts.