Home China Guide Chinese Culture Chinese Festivals Mid-Autumn Festival Chinese Mooncakes — Flavors, Recipes, Symbols

Chinese Mooncakes — Flavors, Recipes, Symbols

Mooncakes are traditional Chinese pastries generally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, the second most important festival in China. The festival typically involves families getting together to share mooncakes while watching the moon.

Why They're Called Mooncakes

'Mooncakes' (月饼 yuèbǐng /ywair-bing/) are named after the moon goddess (Chang'e), who is said to make this kind of cake.

What Mooncakes Are and How They Are Eaten

In ancient times, mooncakes were a kind of offering to the moon. Over the centuries, these special cakes have become the most popular food of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Mooncakes typically measure around 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) across and up to 5 cm (2 inches) deep. Most mooncakes have a pastry skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling.

Mooncakes are usually eaten in small wedges during the festival, and shared by family members. They are generally served with Chinese tea, and, very rarely, mooncakes are served steamed or fried.

The Meaning of the Mooncake

In Chinese culture, roundness symbolizes completeness and togetherness. A full moon symbolizes prosperity and reunion for the whole family. Round mooncakes complement the harvest moon in the night sky at the Mid-Autumn Festival. 

The mooncake is not just a food. It's a profound cultural tradition deep in Chinese people's hearts, symbolizing a spiritual feeling. At Mid-Autumn Festival people eat mooncakes together with family, or present mooncakes to relatives or friends, to express love and best wishes.

Traditional Mooncake Fillings/Flavors

Mooncakes The Makings of a Mooncake

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.

Regional Varieties of Mooncakes

Five Kernel MooncakesFive Kernel Mooncakes

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

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

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.

Beijing-style mooncakes

Mooncakes with sweet bean pasteMooncakes with sweet bean paste

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

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

Ningbo-style mooncakes are mainly prevalent in East China's Zhejiang province. They have a spicy and salty flavor.

Modern Mooncakes Flavors

Green Tea mooncake Green tea mooncakes

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.

Seafood mooncakes

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.

Continue to read Top 10 Mooncake Flavors

beautiful mooncake packaging

Mooncake Packaging

Mooncake boxes can be very beautiful, and sometimes the boxes are more expensive than the mooncakes themselves! Different brands have their own unique designation of packaging, mostly colorful tins and card boxes. Mooncakes are generously packaged in their small-case-sized gift boxes. Typically there are several small boxes on a piece of yellow or red silk. Each small box contains a mooncake in a transparent air-tight wrapper, with an anti-oxidation sachet to keep it fresh.

Where to Buy Mooncakes

Mooncakes sold at supermarketMooncakes sold at supermarket

One month before Mid-Autumn Festival you can see mooncakes everywhere in China. Many supermarkets and hotels will sell a variety of mooncakes in elaborate gift boxes. Mooncakes sold in supermarkets or hotels are more expensive, and better packaged, than those sold at street markets, even for the same brand.

Chinese people prefer to buy gifts for their family or friends in a supermarket, as the attractive packaging will gain them 'face’, i.e. honor.

Mooncakes sold on the street or local market are often cheaper, and sometimes with more delicious flavors. At markets mooncakes are often sold in bulk in transparent cellophane. People buy mooncakes in local markets for their cheap price and tasty flavor if the cakes are to be eaten by themselves, otherwise they buy them in a supermarket.

Mooncake Prices

The price range of mooncakes is very wide. The price depends on the flavor and packaging. In general the price for a red bean paste, lotus seed paste, or vegetable and fruit mooncake is 5–10 yuan. Five kernel and roast pork flavor is more expensive, about 10–20 yuan each.

Gift boxes are often priced from 100 to 200 yuan (with 5 to 9 mooncakes inside), with the price depending more on the packaging than the mooncakes.

Book a Tour with the Chance to Learn How to Make Mooncakes

Giving a mooncakeOur guide, Foster is giving a mooncake to our customer.

If you book a Guilin tour for the period from September 16 to October 15, 2015, you will have an opportunity to get a box of mooncakes from China Highlights, and have a free Mooncake DIY Course to learn how to make mooncakes.

See our most popular China Mid-Autumn tours:

Or contact us and we can arrange your own tour according to your requirements.

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