Food & Drink

What to Eat While Gazing at the Moon for Mid-Autumn Festival

Bring on the glow of the full moon but also the rice cakes.

mid autumn festival food
Grace Han/Thrillist

Mid-Autumn Festival goes by many names, depending on which part of the world you’re in. It’s a celebration that follows the lunar calendar and brings together friends and family to appreciate the full moon during fall and celebrate the year’s harvest. Though it may be referred to as Tsukimi in Japan and Chuseok in Korea, one commonality across all the countries throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia that celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival is the joy of gathering around the table for food. 

This year, Mid-Autumn Festival falls on October 1st. Here’s what you should eat for the event, whether you’ve been celebrating all of your life or are looking for an excuse to consume moon-themed snacks: 

Pomelos

Pomelo season begins in the fall, so Mid-Autumn Festival marks the perfect time to begin indulging in these large citrus fruits. If you’ve never had pomelo before, it’s very similar to grapefruits but less abrasive in flavor. Instead of overwhelming tartness or bitterness, pomelos are fleshy and mild. Eat them plain, or dip pomelo into a blend of sugar, salt, and chili flakes. 

Hairy Crab

Hairy crab, otherwise known as Chinese mitten crab, is a Shanghainese specialty served for Mid-Autumn Festival. The crabs are known for their furry pincers and mature during September and October, making Mid-Autumn Festival the perfect time to serve this delicacy. Typically, the crabs are steamed whole. They are then served alongside a ginger, scallion, and vinegar sauce used that complements the delicate meat found under the cracked shell. 

Pumpkin

As Mid-Autumn Festival arrives as the weather begins to shift from summer to fall, it only makes sense that pumpkin is on the menu. Pumpkins are harvested during autumn and can be used in an assortment of ways for the holiday: steamed, added to curry, morphed into buns, and stir fried are just some of the ways in which pumpkin is served. Like many of the foods on this list, pumpkins are also round and symbolic of the moon, therefore marking them as an auspicious food.

Tsukimi Dango

In Japan, Mid-Autumn Festival is actually referred to as Tsukimi, and during Tsukimi it’s traditional to eat Tsukimi dango -- or Japanese rice cakes -- to celebrate the full moon. In Japanese folklore, it’s said that if you gaze closely enough, you can spot the image of rabbits pounding mochi on the moon, which may be why dango has become such a popular festival food. Additionally, the spherical mochi dumplings are pale and round, symbolic of the full autumn moon. Unlike the subtly sweet chichi dango or the soy sauce-glazed mitarashi dango, the dango consumed during Tsukimi is relatively plain and served stacked into a pyramid rather than skewered.

Songpyeon

Songpyeon is a type of tteok, or Korean rice cake. Instead of a full moon sphere like Tsukimi dango, these rice cakes are typically folded into a half moon shape. In Korea, Mid-Autumn Festival is known as Chuseok and songpyeon is always on the menu. Like mooncakes, songpyeons are usually stuffed with a range of fillings: chestnuts, dates, red bean, and soybeans are common options. Unlike mooncakes, songpyeons are steamed alongside pine needles, offering a distinctly grassy flavor and fresh aroma.

Duck

When it comes to family gatherings for Chinese holidays, duck is almost always on the menu. Sure, preparations vary by regions: there might be roasted duck with its signature crispy skin, smoked duck that’s blackened and aromatic, or baked duck alongside fall veggies. Either way, Mid-Autumn Festival is a perfect excuse to enjoy a whole duck with friends and family.

Mooncakes

Because Mid-Autumn Festival is all about gathering with friends and family and viewing the moon together, it only makes sense that mooncakes are one of the most prevalent foods of the holiday. These dense pastries are typically stamped with Chinese characters and traditionally filled with lotus bean paste, red beans, mixed nuts, or date paste and often hold a suspended salted egg yolk in its center, a nod to the full moon. Styles of mooncakes vary by region and location; mooncakes are consumed in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and throughout Southeast Asia. More contemporary flavors include durian, chocolate, peanut, and matcha -- and some “mooncakes” are actually jellies shaped in a mooncake mold. There are even savory mooncakes filled with pork that possess a flakier exterior, otherwise known as Suzhou mooncakes. Mooncakes are the namesake of the holiday and a must-have for October 1st.

Buy mooncakes here.

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Kat Thompson is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn