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Mid-Autumn treats: Duck, snails,watermelon

By Li Anlan (Shanghai Daily)

09:55, August 21, 2012

Nanjing guihua ya or osmanthus duck is a popular festive dish.(Photo from Shanghai Daily)

The same harvest moon shines above all parts of China and mooncakes are essential to the Mid-Autumn Festival, but there are also many regional customs and special dishes, as Li Anlan reports.

Mooncakes, or yuebing, are the symbol of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Whether sweet or savory, mooncakes are the must-haves around China. At the same time, different regions celebrate the festival with different traditions and, of course, different food.

The ancient harvest festival, this year falling on September 30, is sometimes called the Moon Festival. It originated in worship and appreciation of the moon. In ancient times, food offerings were made to the full moon. The round cakes also symbolize family reunion.

Mooncake pastries can be sweet or savory, filled with nuts such as almonds, seeds, dates, lotus paste, red bean paste, as well as meat and a salted duck egg yolk. The fillings also depend on the region where mooncakes are made and local tastes.

In Shanghai, the traditional festive food for celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival includes, in addition to mooncakes, taro root and jiang ya (酱鸭) or duck seasoned with soy sauce. Drinking osmanthus wine is also a tradition, and the sweet scent of the seasonal osmanthus flower makes the wine more special.

Diverse customs around China result from regional differences, according to Zhong Fulan, a professor specializing in folk traditions at East China Normal University. During the festival, many activities are centered on admiring the full moon.

In the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-770 BC), mooncakes and watermelon were essential during ceremonies. The watermelon, signifying fertility because of its many seeds, was carved into the shape of a lotus, an auspicious symbol.

In the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, many Mid-Autumn Festival ceremonial activities were retained. Some areas developed special customs such as fire dragon dances and lighting up towers with lanterns.

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