Lanterns, mooncakes, and families coming together to feast remain traditions in Chinese and Vietnamese households in Vancouver
written by Deanna Cheng
Vancouver residents reflect on their holiday memories as they eat dinner with their families for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The holiday, also known as Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, is celebrated across Asia and, to a lesser degree, among the Asian diaspora.
The festival is about harvest time and the full moon – when people in the past believed it to be at its biggest and brightest.
Mid-Autumn Festival occurs on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, which is typically somewhere between late September and early October. This year, it lands on Friday, September 29.
As a kid in Vietnam, the biggest memories Rosey Luc had about the mid-autumn festival were lanterns and mooncakes.
When she came to Canada in 1988, she celebrated the holiday at Britannia Secondary School in East Vancouver.
A Vietnamese organization has always had the moon festival at the high school’s cafeteria for the last 20 years or so, she said. “People get to dress in traditional clothing. There are lanterns and mooncakes as well.”
The mother of two also used to go to the lantern festival at Trout Lake but she hasn’t been since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food bridges the gap between generations in immigrant households
Being in Canada sometimes creates a gap where it can be hard to hold onto cultural traditions and language, Luc said.
One way she remains connected is through food.
Luc is currently teaching her teenage kids how to make the dishes she makes.
“When I was younger, my parents used to make them and showed me how to make them.
“Now I’m teaching my kids how to make them so, one day, when I’m in my 70s and I don’t want to cook anymore, at least they can make it.”
When asked about traditional dishes prepared every year, Luc said she makes sticky rice, mustard greens, and caramelized pork (thit kao tau).
Her parents still host the family dinner, welcoming their five daughters and 14 grandchildren into their home. Including significant others, Luc estimates there are about 30 or so people in one house for the celebration.
“Everyone eats and finds a spot to sit around together wherever they are comfortable. Some sit on the couch. Some sit at the table. We have three tables,” Luc described.
The family checks in with each other as Luc’s mother reminisces about how much she worked and prepared during the moon festival when she was younger.
Luc, who is the president of RSL Real Estate Development and Consultant Ltd., said her parents lived in poverty in Vietnam.
“They remind us how lucky we are to be here in Canada and that we get all this food that we eat now versus what they had when they were younger.”
Mooncakes are offered between friends or family at gatherings while celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. Vancouver locals share their memories of food and family of this special time of year when the moon is thought to be at its biggest and brightest.
Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for families to get together
Family dinners during this time are also significant to Artbedo illustrator Mikayla Hong.
Similarly to Luc’s experience, Hong said her family dinners would be at her grandparents’ house where her grandmother cooked and family members would bring their own dishes.
She remembers them as opportunities to see extended family including her cousins.
Today, it’s harder because everyone is older and has different schedules but they do try to get together.
Hong feels lucky to be close to her family and relatives.
Sometimes, they opt to eat at Floata Seafood Restaurant in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Hong considered these times to be special because she gets to eat the traditional Chinese-style banquet food.
Hong remembers best the steamed fish dish and the puffed shrimp chips that accompany the crispy roast chicken. “I would be really excited to eat because it’s just different food from what we usually get at home.”
The 25-year-old Chinatown artist’s first memory of the mid-autumn festival is trying a mooncake for the first time.
Her mom cut one up and told Hong and her sister to try it.
As a kid, Hong saw the orange filling and thought it would be sweet because the food had the word “cake” in its name.
“I remember biting it and being so confused because it was this weird, salty egg flavour.”
Hong has since tried various contemporary mooncake flavours such as red bean, durian and snowy skin.
However, like Luc, her favourite mooncake is the traditional one with lotus paste and duck egg.
The article was first published by the Glacier Media Group.
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