About a month ago these strange red stalls started to pop up on street corners.
Now, I am used to odd business ventures rapidly springing up. There’s a roundabout near my house where they sell electronics and Tupperware with the aid of a giant Karaoke screen. Advertising here isn’t always so spot on, near my house there’s also a dentist surgery with a huge picture of Jessica Alba for no reason. Besides it’s in another language so it’s very hard to work out what someone is actually selling. Thus, I thought this was just another new product they were trying to push.
But then the word ‘moon’ started to appear EVERYWHERE. Local bakeries were selling moon pastries, Baskin and Robbins were selling moon ice cream. Something’s going on I thought….
This general moonish-ness carried on for a good four more weeks before I finally asked a Vietnamese person why, coincidentally it seemed, there was suddenly a lot of talk about the moon. Turns out it’s a really popular festival, Tết Trung Thu, which when translated has the catchy name ‘Lunar Mid-Autumn Festival’. It’s also celebrated widely in China, so Cho Lon, the Chinese district here, has been even more packed than usual recently with people buying appropriate festival paraphernalia.
I’ve asked a few people what it’s about and the general consensus is that the full moon is the biggest of the year and people eat this special ‘cake’ and children make lanterns and walk around with them. There’s also some lion-costume dancing. No body could really tell me why. A bit like trying to explain Halloween I guess.
You can only buy moon cakes around this time apparently so they are very popular. Our equivalent would be Easter eggs, (I’d say creme eggs but it appears they’ve sacrilegiously gone on sale all year round now).
The traditional moon cake looks a little like a pork pie. There are many different varieties but the general trend is some odd-flavoured dense powdery stuff and then a big sphere in the middle of egg, fruit or meat.
I apologise, but I am not a fan. They have vegetarian ones; green tea, lotus or red bean flavour to name a few, and in my uncultured opinion they aren’t great! It’s an odd, dry, stodgy mix of bizarre tastes and textures with a less-than-exciting-more-disgusting centre piece.
To counteract my damming assessment of this cultural staple, here are some pretty festival pictures I took from the internet:
More information about the festival can be found on this ever reliable and trustworthy website http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid-Autumn_Festival#Vietnam
Also, for what it’s worth, the moon WAS gigantically full last night, ’twas beautiful.