Last weekend, I stumbled across Phuket Municipality’s celebration marking the Mid-Autumn Festival (in Thai, Wan Wai Phra Jan — เทศกาลไหว้พระจันทร์). Also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival), it falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. This is the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox when the moon is said to be at its fullest and roundest – the so-called harvest moon. In traditional Chinese agrarian societies it marks the end of the harvest period when family and friends gather to celebrate a time of plenty.
Gifts are exchanged at this time of year, particularly gifts of fruit (especially the pomelo), and the famous mooncakes. Mooncakes are round sweet cakes filled with sesame seeds, ground lotus seeds and egg. Around this time of year the cakes can be bought almost anywhere (including 7-11s and McDonald’s throughout Thailand). They are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea. Today, it is customary for businessmen and families to present them to their clients or relatives as gifts, helping to fuel a demand for high-end mooncake styles. This has become quite a problem in recent years – many of the cakes come in elaborate packaging and politicians often use them as a form of graft. In 2013, a ban was placed on government officials using public money to purchase mooncakes and restrictions were placed on the cost of the packaging as well in an effort to reduce waste.
This year, Phuket Town’s festival was centered on Queen Sirikit Park on Thalang Road from 18 until 21 September. There were numerous food booths set up in the park and a small stage provided entertainment in the form of Thai dance. Additional booths along the eastern portion of Thalang Road sold used clothing, pirated VCD’s and DVD’s, educational toys, and other odds and ends. The unusual thing was that, despite it’s portrayal on many posters and brochures seen in the area, not a single mooncake was to be found. I really wanted to buy one to see if it tasted any better than a box I purchased in China ten years ago (and found so unappetizing that I threw out the remainder and haven’t one since).
This particular evening, my dinner consisted of wonderful barbecued pork pieces. These tasted great – very similar to Kansas City-style spare ribs – but seemed somewhat expensive at 100 baht for a small bag. I usually expect to pay no more than 30 or 40 baht for street food in this part of Phuket. I had orange juice to drink.
What I’m really looking forward to is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival which starts a week from this coming Sunday, running from 4-13 October…