Mooncakes are traditional Chinese pastries generally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The festival typically involves family getting together to share mooncakes while watching the moon.
Typical Chinese mooncakes are round in shape, and measure around 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter and 4-5 cm (2 inches) in thickness. Most mooncakes consist of a pastry skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling. Mooncakes are usually eaten in small wedges shared by family members. They are generally served with Chinese tea, and very rarely, mooncakes are served steamed or fried.
Mooncakes are the must-eat food for the Mid-Autumn Festival. It was customary for house wives to prepare mooncakes at home when the festival was approaching. However, as the production is labor-intensive and they are widely available in markets, very few people make them at home nowadays. The price of mooncakes usually ranges from $ 10 (70 yuan) to $ 50 (340 yuan) for a box of four. However, very expensive mooncakes have appeared recently with some reaching thousands of yuan for a box.
The custom of eating mooncakes has it's origins in the uprising that ended the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). People in the Ming Dynasty that followed ate mooncakes every Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate the uprising. Far from everyone looks back to the Yuan Dynasty nowadays, with mooncakes more a representation of the full Mid-Autumn moon in people's minds, and something nice to eat with family.
For more on how the custom of mooncake eating began see The History and Origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The types of filling vary according to the region's tradition. The most used fillings are as follows:
Lotus seed paste (莲蓉, lían róng): It is made from dried lotus seeds. Lotus seed paste is considered by some people the most delicious and luxurious filling for mooncakes.
Sweet bean paste (豆沙, dòu shā): There are several types of sweet bean paste: mung bean paste, red bean paste and black bean potato paste. Red bean paste is the most commonly used filling for mooncakes.
Five kernel (五仁, wǔ rén): This filling consists of 5 types of nuts and seeds. The types of nuts and seeds vary according to different regions, but commonly used nuts and seeds include: walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds, and almonds.
Egg yolk: A whole salted egg yolk is placed in the center of mooncakes to symbolize the full moon.
Jujube paste: A sweet paste made from the ripe fruits of the jujube (date) plant. It is dark red in color.
The variety of mooncakes varies according to different regions. The fillings used in mooncakes depend on local eating culture and tradition. The most popular variations include:
Cantonese-style mooncakes originate from South China's Guangdong Province. The ingredients used in the fillings are various, which reflects the Guangdong people's adventurous nature in eating. The most used ingredients include lotus seed paste, melon seed paste, ham, chicken, duck, roast pork, mushrooms, and egg yolks. Cantonese-style mooncakes taste sweet.
Suzhou-style mooncakes are also called Su-style mooncakes for short. Su-style mooncakes appeared more than a thousand years ago. They are well known throughout China for their layers of flaky dough and generous allotment of sugar and lard. There are both sweet and savory tastes among Suzhou-style mooncakes.
This style is the typical variation in North China. It originated in Beijing and Tianjin. It features the delicate use of sweetness, moderate allotment of skin and fillings, and meticulous decoration. The common proportion of skin and fillings for Beijing-style mooncakes is 4:6.
Chaoshan-style mooncakes have a distinct crust. They are larger in size than mooncakes in the Suzhou-style. The most commonly used fillings are mung bean paste and black bean potato paste.
Ningbo-style mooncakes are mainly prevalent in East China's Zhejiang province. They have a spicy and salty flavor.
Ice cream mooncakes
They are made of ice cream, and made to look like mooncakes. They have become increasingly popular in recent years among young people and kids.
Fruit and vegetable mooncakes
Naturally, the fillings for this kind of flavor are various vegetables and fruits which include: hami melon, pineapple, litchi, strawberry, white gourd and orange.
These are the most expensive mooncakes. They feature a fresh and slightly salty flavor. Commonly used fillings include: abalone, shark fin and dried purple seaweed.
This is the latest creation (Naliang means to ‘receive coolness’). Their fillings are made of lily, green bean or tea, all of which have a cooling effect on the body.
Coconut milk mooncakes
They are low in sweetness and oil. Their fillings are made of fresh coconut milk. They taste fresh and sweet and have the effect of promoting digestion, and improving one's skin.
They are made by adding tea to other fillings. The most popular flavor is by adding tea to lotus seed paste.
Health food mooncakes
Health food mooncakes are a style of cake that is meant to benefit people's health. They are made of many healthy ingredients such as ginseng, calcium, medicated food and other things that are good for health.