Chinese Mooncakes — Symbols, Flavors, Regional Varieties

Chinese Mooncakes — Symbols, Flavors, Regional Varieties

By Kelly PangUpdated Oct. 2, 2021

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. They are named after the moon goddess (Chang'e), who is said to make this kind of cake.

  • Chinese: 月饼 yuèbǐng /ywair-bing/ 'moon-cake(s)'

Mooncakes are Round or Square Stuffed Pastries

mooncake

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.

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Mooncakes Symbolize Family Reunion

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.

The Top 10 Mooncake Flavors

The types of filling vary according to the region's traditions. The most used fillings are as follows:

mooncake flavors

We have more on The Top 10 Mooncake Flavors.

Regional Varieties of Mooncakes

Across China, mooncakes vary according to different regional styles and flavors. Mooncake fillings depend on local eating culture and traditions. The most popular variations include:

Five Kernel Mooncakes Cantonese-style Mooncakes

Cantonese-Style Mooncakes — Sweet with Various Fillings

Cantonese-style mooncakes originate from Southeast China's Guangdong Province. The ingredients used in the fillings are various.  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.

Beijing-Style Mooncakes — Meticulous Decoration

This style is the typical variation in North China. It originated in Beijing and Tianjin. It features the delicate use of sweetness and meticulous decoration. The common proportion of pastry and filling for Beijing-style mooncakes is 4:6.

Suzhou-Style Mooncakes — Crisp Layers of Flaky Dough

suzhou mooncake Suzhou-style mooncakes

Suzhou-style mooncakes (Su mooncakes for short) represent the Yangtze Delta region around Shanghai. Su mooncakes appeared more than a thousand years ago. They are well known throughout China for their layers of flaky pastry and generous allotment of sugar and lard. There are both sweet and savory Suzhou mooncakes.

Chaoshan-Style Mooncakes — Larger with Vegi-Paste

Chaoshan is a region of Guangdong in SE China where many ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand come from. Chaoshan-style mooncakes have a distinct crust. They are larger than most other mooncakes. The most commonly used fillings are mung bean paste, and black bean and potato paste.

Yunnan-Style Mooncakes — Ham and Flower Fillings

The two most famous Yunnan-style mooncakes are ham mooncakes and flower mooncakes.

Ham mooncakes are delicious with fillings of diced ham and sweet honey. The flavor are both sweet and a little bit salty.

Flowers are popular in Yunnan as cake fillings. Fresh roses or other edible flowers are wrapped in the pastry skin of flower mooncakes.

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Hong-Kong-Style Mooncakes — Ice-Skin

Ice-skin mooncakes were first popular among Hong Kongers. The skin of the mooncakes is not made of ice. They got this name because their skins are white, and are not baked in an oven, but stored in a refrigerator instead.

Beautiful and Luxurious Mooncake Packaging

mooncake boxes Beautiful mooncake packaging

The cost of a mooncake is actually quite low for one mooncake. But mooncakes in beautiful and luxury packs are sold in a higher price. 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.

Buy Mooncakes at a Supermarket or Hotel

mooncakes in supermarket Mooncakes sold at a 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 Mooncake gift box

Mooncake Prices — ¥5 to ¥200

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.

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FAQs about Chinese Mooncakes        

1. How are mooncakes made?

Making Mooncake

A mooncake consists of a pastry skin and some filling.

First, make the pastry case with dough and syrup in equal proportions.
Then choose your favorite ingredients to make the filling.
Next, put the paste into a round mold so it starts to take shape. The mooncake can then go into the oven for baking.

The exception to this is the process for making a snow skin mooncake. Its dough and fillings are cooked in advance and then put into the refrigerator after being molded into shape.

All the ingredients can be found easily in supermarkets. Read Top 10 Mooncakes in China

2. Are there regional differences in Chinese mooncakes?

Chinese Mooncake

Yes, there are different regional styles and flavors of mooncakes across China. It's difficult to accurately estimate how many types and flavors of mooncake there are.

The most popular mooncakes in China are: Cantonese-style mooncakes, Hong-Kong-style mooncakes, Beijing-style mooncakes, Suzhou-style mooncakes, Yunnan-style mooncakes, and Chaoshan-style mooncakes.

Read more on Chinese mooncakes to learn about the differences between the stylesand flavors.

3. How long can a Chinese mooncake last before going bad?

The consume-by date of a commercial mooncake ranges from 10/15 days to a few months, 10 months, or even longer. It depends on the packaging, filling, the ratio of the ingredients, and the storage temperature. Different brands of mooncakes have different expiration dates.

A homemade mooncake can usually last for a week as long as it's refrigerated.

To ensure the quality of your mooncakes, please buy them from reputable retail outlets or supermarkets. Check the expiry date before eating a mooncake.

4. Is it okay to eat mooncakes at other times of the year?

It's okay to eat mooncakes outside of the Mid-Autumn Festival although not many people actually eat them other than during this festival.

Most of the mooncake manufacturers produce mooncakes once a year and only start making them when the Mid-Autumn Festival is approaching. So it can be difficult to buy mooncakes when it isn't the Mid-Autumn Festival.

5. Which kind of Chinese mooncake is the best?

Chinese Mooncakes

As an old saying goes, it's different strokes for different folks. As the traditional food of the Mid-Autumn Festival, mooncakes have developed various styles and flavors throughout history. The classic favorite with seniors is ‘five kernel roast pork' flavor.

Here are the top 10 flavors of mooncakes, which are well received and popular in China, including traditional flavors and new products.

6. Why are mooncakes so rich in calories?

The main ingredients of mooncakes are rich in sugar and carbohydrates.

Amooncake's exterior is made of flour, oil, and sugary syrup. The fillings vary but the ingredients are also normally high in sugars.

This kind of calorie-rich festive delight is only served once a year.

Want to share the Mid-Autumn Festival story with your family? The 3-minute video below will show you all about it.

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