Tet Trung Thu (Mid Autumn Festival) is quickly upon us. Being a predominantly agricultural society, Tet Trung Thu is one of the most important festivals in Vietnam to mark the end of the harvest season. Like many harvest moon festivals celebrated in Asia, it is held in the eighth lunar month and this year is on Sept. 22, when the moon is at its brightest at this time of the year. Influenced by Chinese tradition, Vietnam’s festival also incorporates it’s own folk lores and differs in that it specifically celebrates children as well as the land’s bounty.
Think of it as a combination of Thanksgiving and Halloween, a time for families to get together and give thanks but also a time to celebrate children by giving them gifts and encouraging hard work and study through traditional folk lores. In the past, families would spend time together to build lanterns from bamboo and paper, but now adays cheap plastic lanterns are more common place. In the weeks before, families stock up on Banh Trung Thu (Mid Autumn Festival Moon Cakes) to enjoy during the holiday as well as to give to friends and family.
Banh Trung Thu has an outer dough of thin pastry, rolled flat and smoothed around a ball of filling, usually lotus nut paste or mixed nuts. Traditionally the filling also includes a small preserved egg yolk which represents the moon. Once the outer shell covers the filling, the baker places it into a round mold, flattens it so that the design is imprinted, and whacks it out with a loud bang! Then, they finished the mooncakes with an eggwash glaze and carefully placed in an oven. Banh Trung Thu can also be made with a soft shell of glutinous rice, also called banh deo. Moon cakes can be quite elaborate and each cake is a treasured gift during the holiday. Moon cakes are often very rich tasting, and often cut into small portions to savor with family and friends over tea. Other symbolic round foods are also served, such as grapefruit, pomegranates, apples, and grapes. Vietnamese families would then enjoy the snacks while watching the celebration and admiring the beautiful, luminous moon. And more importantly, surrounded by their children.
Children would parade around with their brightly lit lanterns, enjoy dragon dances, and sing songs. One popular song called Ruoc Den Trung Thu goes like this:
This year we’re fortunate to enjoy these gorgeous moon cakes made by a non-profit organization called Mam Non, created over 10 years ago in order to meet the needs of metro-Detroit families adopting children from Vietnam as well as the greater Asia. Founded by a college friend, Linh Song, the group has been making Banh Trung Thu for past 4 years to raise money for their mentoring program for girls adopted from Asia. They match them with young Asian American women, some of whom are also adopted. The girls named it GIFT, short for Growing in Friendship Together. Each year their parents work with the program organizers, mentors, and bakery owners over a 2-3 day period cranking out hundreds of mooncakes. This is the primary fundraiser for Mam Non which is otherwise unfunded and entirely staffed by volunteers.
The experience of baking together has created stronger bonds than any batter and dough. While weighing and rolling out balls of filling and dough, the adoptees and mentors talk about their mutual anxiety growing up being Asian American adoptees and the emotional outbursts that comes with pre-teen hormones. They talk about birthparents in Vietnam, China, or Korea. The entire process is exhausting but quite a feat for the little group as they bake hundreds of these cakes and ship all over the world.
These girls are busily making lotus, red bean, and pineapple flavored moon cakes as you read this so they can be freshly sent to your door. Please support Asian American adoptees of Mam Non and the GIFT program by enjoying these delicious banh trung thu and purchasing them via their website or the link below.