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Are Mid-Autumn Moon Festival "moon cakes" Vietnam's Christmas "fruit cakes"? Everyone gets one (or many) moon cakes as gifts for the holiday. And many are never unboxed. Instead, special friends pass them along as gifts to other special friends. Now, certainly Vietnamese folk love moon cakes. Literally millions are sold for the Mid-Autumn Festival. But I've never actually seen a Vietnamese friend buy one to consume for themselves. I have seen plenty of boxes sit untouched on kitchen counters until I arrive for a visit and am told, You must try a moon cake! Of course, I do. I have nothing against eating a heavy brick for the holidays. After all, it's tradition! But it must be eaten in small slices over the course of several days. Always dense and heavy, moon cake ingredients vary from bakery to bakery. I've encountered numerous fillings, involving bean pastes, ground seeds and nuts, salted egg yolk, dried fruits, and shredded meats. So just what is this holiday that requires eating this special food?
According to my Vietnamese friends, the Mid-Autumn Festival recounts the legend of Cuội, whose wife accidentally urinated on a sacred banyan tree, taking Cuội with the sacred banyan tree to the moon. Every year on the Mid-Autumn Festival, children light lanterns and participate in a procession to show Cuội the way back to Earth. So there you have it. Why not eat a heavy brick-like pastry to help celebrate the memory of an accidental urination on a sacred tree? Makes sense!
Perhaps I'm a bit facetious. But there is a very good reason that moon cakes are so popular and exchanged widely across Vietnam. It's what's UNDER the moon cake: COLD, HARD CASH! It seems managers in Vietnam help ensure their career advancement by simply placing cash in the moon cake gift box and presenting it at Mid-Autumn Festival to their superiors. The larger the cash denominations, the more successful their career! It's tradition! But there are two other great aspects to the Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam. One is the children's holiday processions and Lion Dances. They are colorful, sweet, and great fun. And just as exciting is the NEW moon cake tradition. Baskin & Robbins in Saigon now has Cherries Jubilee ice cream- (rather than bean paste-) filled moon cakes with a mango yogurt center (rather than a salted egg)! Major yummy! Other great Saigon eateries and eating tales at: WWW.EATINGSAIGON.COM
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