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Celebrate Moon Festival with elegant moon cakes and harvest foods

Moon cakes made for Mid-Autumn Moon Festival are on display in a bakery in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Sept. 3, 2008. The traditional moon cakes are very rich in taste and have a bright yolk in the center to represent the moon.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chitose Suzuki

TORONTO - The Moon Festival this Sunday is the second more important event on the Chinese calendar.

"The moon has a lot to do with farming. In Asia, there are so many people who rely on farming, which is why it is so important," says Stephanie Yuen, a recipe developer and food writer from Vancouver.

Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, it has become widespread globally due to many countries having communities of people of Chinese descent.

"In cities like Vancouver and Toronto where multiculturalism is so nicely embraced you can find everything you need to throw a moon party," such as moon cakes, paper lanterns, candies, nuts and harvest foods, says Yuen, author of "East Meets West — Traditional and Contemporary Asian Dishes from Acclaimed Vancouver Restaurants."

Here are five things to know about the Moon Festival:

1. The Moon Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, usually around late September and early to mid-October. This year it is Sept. 27.

"If it happens to fall right on Thanksgiving, that is double happiness for me," says Yuen.

2. Like Thanksgiving, the festival marks harvest's end and is a chance for families and friends to gather to savour its bounty and the beauty of the moon.

"In the farming era, especially, the male kids of the family were expected to help out with the harvest so they would come home and help out. And then after all the busy work, the sweat, all would sit down and have fun, enjoy some of the harvest," says Yuen.

3. Moon cakes are the most well known food of the autumn festival.

The treats typically contain bean paste or lotus seed paste, though some are savoury.

Elegantly enrobed in pastry, they're a work of art. They are usually round — symbolizing the moon — and packaged in beautiful boxes suitable for gift giving.

There is also an egg yolk inside.

"When you cut it and take a look at it, it actually looks like a moon hanging in the beautiful sky," says Yuen, a spokesperson for Loblaw.

"The beauty of the moon cakes is astounding."

4. The food is hearty and rustic rather than extravagant, as with the Lunar New Year.

Hosts set out dishes representative of the harvest using ingredients such as root vegetables, yams, gourds, eggplant and melons. The green-skinned pomelo, which resembles a plump grapefruit, is a staple.

Nuts and candies are also served.

5. The evening culminates in watching the moon.

"It's very relaxing, unlike some of the other festivals where you always have to do something. I take it over Lunar New Year because Lunar New Year there's always something happening. As a mother it's non-stop. There are so many rituals and traditions that you have to follow," says Yuen.

"With the Moon Festival it's easier.... People just get together and chit-chat, gossip. It's very casual."

Follow @lois_abraham on Twitter.

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