It’s Mid-Autumn Day again; feeling bewildered by the choice you have when you want to buy a nice box of moon cakes? Here is an all-around explanation of the most common moon cakes we can find on market, to help you make your choice.
Cantonese moon cakes (广式月饼)
Cantonese moon cakes are the most popular genre in China. You can tell by their thin, smooth skins that are molded into complicated patterns, and their greasiness to the touch. It is said that in 1889, saw the first Cantonese restaurant that made moon cakes, stuffed the cakes with lotus seed paste (莲蓉), and until this day, the lotus seed paste filling remains the most classic choice. If a yolk of a salted egg is wrapped in the heart of the filling, the moon cake is called 蛋黄莲蓉月饼. Even though this moon cake ends up being very fatty, it is undoubtedly the best sold kind in China.
Other popular fillings include bean paste (豆沙), nuts (五仁), barbecued pork (叉烧), and shredded coconut (椰丝).
Su moon cakes (苏式月饼)
The Su moon cakes are common in Southern China, especially in Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces. Compared with the Cantonese moon cakes, they look far less greasy, although are not as delicately made. They are shaped into little buns, and the skin is usually white or golden at the top. Su moon cakes mainly fall into two simple categories: the sweet (甜月饼) and the salty (咸月饼). The sweet ones are usually stuffed with roses, osmanthus flowers, sesame, walnuts and sunflower seeds; the salty ones’ fillings are usually made with ham, pork, shrimps, and pork fat.
Yunnan moon cakes (滇式月饼)
The Yunnan moon cake is also called “Yunnan ham moon cake” (云腿月饼). Compared with other moon cakes it has a unique, ethnic flavor, and is especially popular in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. The most authentic Yunnan moon cakes’ fillings have to be made from Xuanwei ham, a local specialty. which is blended with honey, pork oil, and sugar. Unlike other moon cakes, its skin is hard.
As Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province is famed as “the city of flowers”, another kind of delicious Yunnan moon cakes are flower cakes (鲜花饼), which use roses and honey as fillings.
Beijing moon cakes (京式月饼)
Legend has it that in very ancient times Beijing had a plague. Chang’e, the fairy on the moon, designated her rabbit, whose position was to grind medicine for her, to descend on the earth to cure people of the disease. The rabbit turned into a man, and made two kinds of medicine, one was red and the other white. He cured everyone in the entire town and then returned to the moon. To pay honor to the rabbit, Beijingers made two kinds of moon cakes that resemble the medicines. One is white with but a small flower on the top, called “自来白”; the other has a red ring on its skin, called “自来红”. The content is usually made from fruits preserved in sugar, osmanthus flowers, and sesame oil.
New trends in moon cakes
Of course, the Chinese moon cake industry lacks no entrepreneurial spirit. The new inventions in moon cakes in recent years are seemingly never-ending. If you are a tuhao, there are the seafood moon cakes (海味月饼) which use abalone and shark’s fin (but TWOC recommends you do not buy them, for environmental reasons). Chinese bakery franchises have fast been experimenting by making moon cakes with a Western twist, such as “French moon cakes” (法式月饼) stuffed with cheese. As for the year of 2014, icy-skin moon cakes (冰皮月饼) are particularly trendy, which win people’s hearts with their colorful, translucent skin.
Image courtesy of Nipic.