The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, traditionally China's harvest time. Every home makes various delicious food and good wines to celebrate the festival. Over the centuries the rich and colorful Mid-Autumn Festival diet customs were formed. The most popular Mid-Autumn Festival foods include mooncakes, pumpkin, river snails, taro, wine fermented with osmanthus flowers, duck and hairy crabs.
Mooncake is the most popular and important food eaten during the Mid-autumn Festival. Various types of mooncakes are placed in the most prominent places in stores and markets as the festival approaches. Mooncakes are traditionally Chinese pastries which consist of a thin tender skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling. Mooncakes were used to be made at home, but very few people make them at home nowadays.
The traditional fillings include lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste and egg yolk, however, mooncakes with modern flavors such as ice cream mooncakes and chocolate mooncakes have appeared in recent years.
Read more on Chinese Mooncakes — Flavors, Recipes, Symbols
The tradition of eating pumpkin during the festival is followed by people living south of the Yangtze River.
Poor families chose to eat pumpkin during the Mid-Autumn Festival in ancient times, as they couldn't afford mooncakes. The tradition has been passed down, and eating pumpkin on the Mid-Autumn Festival night is believed to bring people good health.
An interesting legend goes that a very poor family, a couple with their daughter, lived at the foot of South Mountain. The old couples were seriously sick for lack of food and clothes. The daughter found a oval-shaped melon one day when she was working in the fields on the South Mountain. She brought the melon home and cooked to serve to her dying parents. Surprisingly, her sick parents recovered after eating the melon. Because the melon was picked from the South Mountain, so it was named 'south melon' (the Chinese name for pumpkin).
Traditionally, river snails are an indispensable food for the Mid-Autumn Festival dinner for people in Guangzhou. River snails are usually cooked with medicinal herbs to dispel their unpleasant odor. Eating river snails during the Mid-Autumn Festival is believed to help brighten the eyes.
Eating taro during the Mid-Autumn Festival is believed to dispel to bad lack and bring good luck and wealth. The tradition began during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).
Drinking wine fermented with osmanthus flowers has a long history in China. Chinese people began to drink such wine over 2,000 years ago. This wine may be preferred because the Mid-Autumn Festival is when the osmanthus flowers are in full bloom. Drinking the wine signifies family reunions and a happy life.
People in East China's Fujian Province have the tradition to cook duck with a kind of taro widely planted in the area during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Osmanthus flowers duck (salted and baked duck) is a must-eat food for people in East China's Jiangsu Province. This is the most famous dish of Nanjing, and has a history of over 2,500 years. The dish features crisp skin, tender meat and fat, but it is not greasy.
In West China's Sichuan Province, people enjoy smoke baked duck. The prepared duck is put in the baked censer and baked with smoke from flaming straw. The duck is cooked when it turns brown, and is then cooked with brine to add more flavor.
Hairy crabs are rich in protein and amino acids. The hairy crab season is September and October. So it is a special seasonal delicacy for Mid-Autumn Festival, a highlight of the Mid-Autumn Festival reunion dinner, especially around Shanghai. See Hairy Crab — The Shanghai Delicacy Every Tourist Should Try.