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September 13, 2011 9:14 AM   Subscribe

For China, yesterday marked the Mid-Autumn Festival, when Chinese at home and abroad gather to worship the Moon Rabbit, carry paper lanterns, and eat mooncakes. From its humble beginning as an agitprop-stuffed pastry, the mooncake has become a strong futures commodity in the People's Republic. Accordingly, authorities are stepping in; apparently everyone wants a piece of the pie cake.
posted by obscurator (31 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Mmm mooncakes. The best are the ones with salted duck egg yolk in the middle. You wouldn't think it would go with the sweet filling, but it totally works.

I do remember though that even 15 years ago when we bought mooncakes at the Chinese grocery they seemed wildly overpriced, especially in the context of the cost of other stuff there. Generally everything was pretty cheap at the Chinese grocery but mooncakes were like $15 for four not very large pieces. Always seemed pretty weird.
posted by kmz at 9:21 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


So that's what that new episode of Angry Birds: Seasons was about, good to know.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:21 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The oddly colored jelly mooncakes terrify me.
posted by elizardbits at 9:32 AM on September 13, 2011


My wife and I actually got into a major fight over moon cakes one time.

In Pittsburgh, there are only a few Asian grocery stores, and since mid-Autumn was upon us, they were all pretty much sold out of moon cakes. Except for one store, which happened to carry durian moon cakes. If you aren't familiar with durian, think of it as the original weapon of mass destruction. I imagine warriors of old used to catapult them over city walls, where if you were hit with the spikes it would kill you. Then, after it broke open, the smell would probably kill more people. There are very good reasons why durian is banned in all public places in Singapore.

My wife (from mainland China) insisted that we buy some of these durian moon cakes, and I (American-born Chinese) told her repeatedly that I wouldn't eat it. She went ahead and bought some. When we got home, she cut a small piece and asked me to eat some. We argued for about half an hour over durian moon cakes, before I finally asked what I should have asked earlier: why do you want me to eat this?

It turns out that the mid-Autumn festival is like Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled all into one. People in China will travel long distances to go home and celebrate with family. Growing up in the USA, my family was separated from the rest of the relatives, so we didn't really travel, and so I didn't get the sense of the importance of the mid-Autumn festival for her.

At this point, I had no choice but to concede and eat some of the foul cake (which made stinky tofu taste pretty good in comparison). My wife tried some too, agreed that it was terrible, and gave the rest away to one of her friends in chemical engineering. The friend proceeded to eat the durian moon cakes in her lab, which made some other people think that there might be a gas leak somewhere.

Anyway, the lesson here is: make sure you buy your moon cakes early or suffer the consequences.
posted by jasonhong at 9:50 AM on September 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


kmz you stole my first two words. I prefer the lotus seed ones. The (high) price of mooncakes in Singapore included very fancy giftboxes.

So that's what that new episode of Angry Birds: Seasons was about, good to know.

Btw, there's an unauthorized Angry Birds theme park but this is what Rovio's boss bird chirped.
posted by infini at 9:51 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This from a street vendor:
"This is a fiercely competitive market and the entrance threshold is low," he said. "I can't tell you my business channels, they are my secrets."
I love it!
posted by Chuckles at 9:54 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm in a small (4.5m) city in Jiangsu Province right now, and let me tell you, the mooncake pressure was immense.

That said, I still don't like mooncakes.
posted by flippant at 9:59 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


At this point, I had no choice but to concede and eat some of the foul cake (which made stinky tofu taste pretty good in comparison). My wife tried some too, agreed that it was terrible, and gave the rest away to one of her friends in chemical engineering. The friend proceeded to eat the durian moon cakes in her lab, which made some other people think that there might be a gas leak somewhere.

Oh yeah, Mid-Autumn festival is huge, probably second only to Chinese New Year. But man I still wouldn't eat durian mooncakes. I love century eggs, I like stinky tofu, but durian, no way. Blech.
posted by kmz at 9:59 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


People don't like to eat moon cakes nowadays

Moon cake is my first memory from university. I was feeling the shock of moving away from home. One of my new roomates thoughtfully shared some moon cake with me. It was tasty and a nice bonding experience for the two of us, but it didn't exactly reduce the culture shock I was feeling on my first night in a new world. Keep in mind that my previous experience of Chinese food had been chicken balls. Douglas Adams came to mind: if I could only see a box of cornflakes somewhere everything would have been alright.

Because of this moon cakes are nostalgia food for me, exactly the opposite of what they were to me then.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:00 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


durian moon cakes

Designed as gifts that will deliberately offend people you don't like?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:03 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I bought a single durian moon cake this year, just to find out what it's like. I'm throwing a Mid-Autumn celebration at my school tonight, in fact, and there'll be many different kinds of moon cakes: taro, red bean, mung bean, white lotus root, mixed nut, etc. No shark fin or chicken, though; I still haven't worked up the courage to try those.

kmz, I think the reason why moon cakes are so expensive is that people give them as gifts, and they're a prestige item. Same reason pretty diamonds cost an arm and a leg while industrial diamonds are cheap, or why big, perfect fruit are so expensive in Japan.

The stores only had a few 柚子 pomelos. My students and I ate them yesterday, so there won't be any for tonight. After we ate them, we put the rinds on our heads, as is de rigeur.

Anyway, 中秋节快乐 to you all!
posted by jiawen at 10:29 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re: duck-egg yolks. I just celebrated mid-autumn with my Hong Kong in-laws, and the yolks were universally scorned--excised from each cake and thrown into the garbage without ceremony. My brother-in-law commented that mooncake is surely a boon to duck producers, who otherwise would have no market for such a "treat." (To each their own, kmz)

Luckily, our selection included many yolk-free varieties including black sesame (awesome!) and ginger-infused lotus.
posted by dust of the stars at 10:49 AM on September 13, 2011


At the AA Bakery in SF's Chinatown yesterday the mooncakes were about $5 apiece, while the regular pastries were about 60 - 80¢ each. Also, mooncakes don't seem to be heavily discounted after the festival, so I guess there's a pretty wide window for Autumn Moon gift-giving.

It's funny that in China nowadays, according to the last 2 links, many people give mooncake coupons as gifts rather than the cakes themselves - maybe we should try that here for Christmas fruitcake. (Apparently mooncakes and coupons from employers are now considered taxable employee benefits ... somehow I can't see the IRS adding a line on the 1040 form for "fruitcake income", though.)
posted by Quietgal at 11:00 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm so glad I saw this post, as it reminded me to check the date for the local Autumn Moon Festival, and it turns out it's this Saturday. Each year it becomes more and more of a trainwreck, though... last year the entertainment was a dancing group of elderly ladies from an assisted living facility, and they ran out of food very early. I felt bad taking my complimentary mooncake as I don't enjoy the taste, but didn't want to offend anyone by spurning their beloved confection. Glad to know I'm not alone.
posted by Soliloquy at 11:03 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Luckily, our selection included many yolk-free varieties including black sesame (awesome!) and ginger-infused lotus.

I am definitely going to track one of these down next year! I believe that one moon cake per year is enough, and I'm still recovering from yesterday's.
posted by obscurator at 11:17 AM on September 13, 2011


Mooncakes are great! Since I and my mother could not read Chinese we had no idea which ones we were getting. So it was a crap shoot of whether it would be mmmm...lotus seed or interesting, nuts with chunks of solid fat. They last forever and are delicious with tea. But man, I would really like to know how I can tell how good the cakes are based on the amazingly gaudy tins. I mean, do I go with the less gaudy or more gaudy?

Must get me mooncakes today.
posted by jadepearl at 11:19 AM on September 13, 2011


Mmmmm Lord Moon! The Easter Bunny is Moonlighting!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:23 AM on September 13, 2011


I always just opt for the most expensive tin, gaudy or not. I think I buy the same one every year, which is brown (not red or gold) and has a picture of a guy on it. They might be more expensive and better because there are like 3 yolks in each one.

I've had some neat ones that were full of cured pork meats, and another one with some sort of walnut-something filling. Mmm.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:28 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mooncakes are great!

Um. No. Mooncakes are super disgusting. Most people -- Chinese people -- don't even eat them. They are always either too sweet or much too dry.

Death to the mooncake.
posted by Silo004 at 11:33 AM on September 13, 2011


I mean, do I go with the less gaudy or more gaudy?

There's enough really cool stuff out there for a whole post on packaging alone.
posted by infini at 11:33 AM on September 13, 2011


Re: duck-egg yolks. I just celebrated mid-autumn with my Hong Kong in-laws, and the yolks were universally scorned--excised from each cake and thrown into the garbage without ceremony. My brother-in-law commented that mooncake is surely a boon to duck producers, who otherwise would have no market for such a "treat." (To each their own, kmz)

*sheds a single tear for wasted duck egg yolks*

I wonder if it's maybe a Northern/Southern thing. My family's from Beijing and most of them love salted duck eggs, especially with some zhou (congee). And I think most century eggs are still made with duck eggs.
posted by kmz at 12:11 PM on September 13, 2011


For anyone who needs to know:

素 sù 'plain', 'vegetarian'
單黃 dānhuáng 'single yolk'
雙黃 shuānghuáng 'double yolk'
三黃 sānhuáng 'triple yolk'

And while I'm at it...

伍仁 wǔrén 'mixed nuts'
白蓮蓉 báiliánróng 'white lotus seed [paste]'
紅豆 hóngdòu 'red bean'

I can post more later if it's useful.
posted by jiawen at 1:28 PM on September 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


How could something so pretty not taste glorious?
posted by Foam Pants at 2:37 PM on September 13, 2011


Durian mooncakes are hugely popular in Singapore; the best ones are made from 100% durian flesh (usually the Mao Shan Wang or Cat Mountain King variety) as filling, and the snowskin incorporates durian flesh as well. I don't really understand the fuss though, because you might as well eat the fruit itself, which tastes much better anyway.

I actually made mooncakes from scratch last weekend... the hardest part was making the lotus seed paste, which is probably something I never want to do again. Its also incredibly unhealthy; the ratio of lotus seeds to sugar to oil by weight is 1:1:1, i.e. what you're eating is 33% sugar and 33% fat. Perhaps its a good thing we only eat these once a year.

jasonhong: In Pittsburgh, there are only a few Asian grocery stores, and since mid-Autumn was upon us, they were all pretty much sold out of moon cakes. Except for one store, which happened to carry durian moon cakes

Hmm would that be one of them in the Strip District? I would have killed to get some durian mooncakes while I was in Pittsburgh... I bet most of the Singaporeans still there would too! You should have given the mooncakes to them instead.
posted by destrius at 7:58 PM on September 13, 2011


Destrius: Hmm would that be one of them in the Strip District?

Yes, the Strip District. I think it was one of the Vietnamese grocery stores there.
posted by jasonhong at 6:35 AM on September 14, 2011


The lotus and sesame are good. I'm still trying to forget the chicken one we had last year.
posted by arcticseal at 9:38 AM on September 14, 2011


You know, I and my mother love century and salted eggs so eating mooncake eggs was no big thing. Interesting to read how some folks dump them. But yeah, post more phrases 'cause I need to know when getting the meat centric ones.
posted by jadepearl at 7:24 PM on September 14, 2011


Okay, here's a few more I saw at the stores this year:

香芋 xiāngyú 'fragrant taro' (these went down very well with my students)
榴蓮 liúlián 'durian'
椰絲 yésī 'coconut thread'
豆沙 dòushā '[red] bean paste'
魚翅 yúchì 'shark fin'
雞腿 jītuǐ 'chicken drumstick'
綠豆 lǜdòu 'mung bean'

There are dozens more possible flavors, as listed here and elsewhere: 桃仁 táorén 'walnut', 鲍鱼 bàoyú 'abalone', 火腿 huǒtuǐ 'ham', etc.

Oh, and: those are all traditional characters and Mandarin pronunciation (in Pīnyīn), in case there was any doubt.

I really want to try 冰淇淋 bīngqílín ice cream moon cakes sometime. I had 咖啡 kāfēi coffee moon cakes from Starbucks in Taiwan and they were pretty dang good.
posted by jiawen at 8:42 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was given some hideously expensive (and very tasty) mooncakes by a very rich relative of a friend - which under Chinese rules means you have to give them presents - and i mean expensive. My suitcase lock was cut with pliers on the Aeroflot flight between Shanghai and Heathrow and nothing removed except the mooncakes. (Other, locked, containers inside had also been cut open.) Had to have been a chinese theft. God knows how expensive they were!
posted by maiamaia at 6:30 AM on September 15, 2011


Also, i just wiki'd 'tu'er shen' and, gay men, your god is officially a rabbit..
posted by maiamaia at 6:33 AM on September 15, 2011


And don't eat anything shark fin, they cut off the fin and leave the shark to die and it's pushing species to extinction. As you probably already knew.
posted by maiamaia at 6:37 AM on September 15, 2011


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