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
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
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 andTianjin. 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.
Modern Mooncakes Flavors
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.
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.