When one sees the presence of mooncakes on the shelves of bakeries or restaurants, it is a sign that the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival has come.
Falling on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, the festival takes its name from the fact that it is always celebrated in the middle of the autumn season and is the second grandest in China after the Chinese New Year.
Mooncakes have gained popularity not only among the Chinese community but also others who buy the delicacy simply to savour it.
So what is the story behind both the festival and the mooncake?
The Mid-Autumn festival is for lunar appreciation and moon watching, and this is the time when mooncakes are regarded as an indispensable delicacy. Offered between friends or at family gatherings while celebrating the festival, mooncakes are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by tea.
Mooncakes come in various flavours according to the region, but they are always round, symbolising the reunion of a family. Nowadays, people also present mooncakes to relatives and friends to demonstrate that they wish them a long and happy life.
The making of traditional mooncakes varies in terms of materials, cooking methods, appearances and flavours and the past years have seen chefs coming up with their own creativity of fillings and texture of pastry, with the sweet, salty, salty-sweet and spicy flavors. The most widely known classification of traditional mooncakes is by the place of origin, ignoring the characteristics of the mooncake itself.
The flavours of Chinese mooncakes today can be divided into two categories: according to whether they are native to China or relatively new, combining Chinese and western tastes with traditional ones are the likes of Lotus Seed Paste with Yolk, which is made of dried lotus seeds with one whole salted duck egg and considered by some to be the most delicious, and possibly the most luxurious as well.
There is also the Sweet Bean Paste, with several types of bean paste for this kind of filling – including red bean paste (most common), mung bean paste and black bean paste.
Popular filling of mooncakes include prunes, five nuts, red bean paste, rose, lotus seed paste, rock sugar, ginkgoes, dried meat floss, black sesames and yolks, while the popular crust variations are pulp, sugar mixed, crisp or cream. There is also the Snow Skin Mooncake, Jelly (crystal skin) Mooncake and Chinese Tea Mooncake.
The Snow Skin Mooncake got its name from its transparent milky white crust, made with steamed glutinous rice powder. It tastes better after being stored in refrigerator for 2-3 hours and has become increasingly popular in recent years among young adults, kids and westerners. The Jelly Mooncake meanwhile is like a round crystal, with a smooth and chewy taste and a glittering appearance.
Green tea powder is added in to the crust or stuffing for the Chinese Tea Mooncake, giving the mooncake a slight tea fragrance, which is a good choice for those who like the taste of green tea in their food.
There are also mooncakes made from fruits and vegetables, coconut milk, seafood, mustard, miscellaneous grains, and even ice cream; healthier mooncakes containing nutrients such as ginseng, calcium, and Chinese herbs; and pictographic mooncakes. Mini mooncakes, meanwhile, are gaining popularity particularly among children and also among adults.
As a compulsory festive food, moon cakes are always a best-seller around the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival in most countries, particularly in China, with most intended as gifts for friends and relatives.
These mooncake gifts come with luxurious and exquisite packaging and sometimes the gift boxes are even more expensive than the mooncakes themselves. However, mooncakes can cost a lot to make, especially with ingredients like seafood or high-quality tea, or by using special baking methods, like the Snow Skin Mooncakes.