In case you didn’t get the memo, today happens to be the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. That’s right. According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, this holiday falls on the 15th day of the 8th month, which is today. Coinciding with the harvest moon, the centuries-old Chinese celebration is marked by several traditions, including hanging shining lanterns and eating sticky, sweet moon cakes. Since it’s also a time to gather family and give thanks for the fall harvest, it’s often referred to as “Chinese Thanksgiving,” meaning scrumptious, expansive feasts are frequently part of the package!
In fact, Yunnan Kitchen on the Lower East Side, which specializes in seasonal, Chinese cuisine inspired by China’s Yunnan Province, is offering a lantern-lit, multi-course prix this evening. For $65 (or an additional $20 for drink pairings), chef Doron Wong has devised a delectable menu, including Steamed Golden Squash, Pu’er Tea Smoked Duck, Crispy Sea Bass and Snails, Stir Fried Autumn Greens, Forest Mushrooms with Benton’s ham, and of course, traditional Moon Cakes for dessert, filled with smooth red bean paste, and served with slices of watermelon and Asian pear.
Appropriately located right at the intersection of classic Chinatown and the increasingly chic Lower East Side, the East-meets-West Fung Tu also has a few plans in the works for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. From September 9th-13th, try Beverage Director Jason Wagner’s Harvest Moon Cocktail, made with Cocchi Americano, vermouth, orange bitters and vodka infused with osmanthus (a flowering plant found in eastern Asia, with great, cultural significance during the festival). Drawing from both his Chinese and American roots, Per Se alum Jonathan Wu will also offer his take on the all-important Moon Cake, available on both the a la carte and tasting menus. But instead of flavoring his dessert with red bean or lotus seeds, Wu’s sweet cakes will be alternately filled with chestnut, cherry and lemon zest.
If you haven’t yet been to Decoy in the West Village for their extravagant duck feast, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is a particularly opportune time. Meant to be shared amongst family or friends, whole, crispy-skinned Peking Ducks are served with floppy, tender pancakes and multiple sauces, alongside a few modern flourishes like Katz’s Pastrami Triangles, Oxtail Dumplings, Jamaican-Chinese Style Jerk Baby Chicken, and Duck Consommé “Shots.” But what Decoy doesn’t really do is sweets, so you might want to check out the inventive selections at Spot Dessert Bar in the East Village, which focuses on contemporary, Asian-inspired treats. Take their best-selling, Chocolate Green Tea Lava Cake, overflowing with green tea ganache and plated with green tea ice cream, unusual, Taro-flavored Macarons, Sweet Potato Cake mounded with sauteed apple, or squares of golden, Honey Butter-slathered Toast, served with thick, condensed milk.
But you simply can’t let the Mid-Autumn Festival pass without picking up a box of prerequisite, intricately patterned Moon Cakes, and some of the best in the city can be found year-round, at Lung Moon Bakery in the heart of Chinatown. It may not look like much, but the bare-bones shop is a true neighborhood staple, beloved for its delicate Egg Custard Tarts, dense, deep-fried Sesame Balls, savory Pork Buns, and of course, caramelized, calligraphy-stamped Moon Cakes, flavored with aromatic lotus seed, and sealed with a wash of beaten, lightly salted egg.
So instead of bemoaning the quickly cooling, abruptly shortening days, take a moment to appreciate the gleaming, full harvest moon tonight, in the company of friends, family, plenty of great food, and an assortment of sweet, celebratory, and decidedly tasty Moon Cakes!
79 Clinton St., btwn. Rivington & Delancey Sts.
22 Orchard St., btwn. Canal & Hester Sts.
529 Hudson St., btwn. 10th & Charles Sts.
Spot Dessert Bar
13 St Marks Pl., btwn. 3rd Ave & Astor Pl.
Lung Moon Bakery
81 Mulberry St., btwn. Bayard & Canal Sts.