After observing my family and teacher’s reactions, I deduced that they believed that moon cakes don’t taste that great but you have to eat them during the Mid-Autumn Festival because of tradition. However, there are actually people who like moon cakes, such as my mom’s classmate I personally think that most of them are too rich. Even though they aren’t too large, you feel like you ate a lot.
But in America, the only type of moon cake I have ever eaten was the lotus paste with the salty duck egg yolk in the middle, which is supposed to represent the moon. I have also had another type of moon cake, which was white with a dry filling that was green. My mom sent it to me when I was studying at Dartmouth College during the Mid-Autumn Festival of 2012, because she knew I liked them.
After a bit of searching, I think they were Suzhou styled mooncakes, or Su Zhou shi yue bing (苏州市月饼). It has a crispy layer and I vaguely remember the filling of my mooncakes was seaweed. Sounds strange, but in this blog post from Life on Nanchang Lu, the sweetened seaweed moooncake, or hai cai yue bing (海菜月饼), is mentioned. These are definitely easier to eat and with the unique seaweed flavor, I like to pair it with a glass of milk. I guess that’s the American-Born Chinese (ABC) in me mixing my two cultures.
Now that I am in China, and after being gifted by my grandma with mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival, I decided to take advantage of this situation. For the next couple of days, I would sample them. My classmates didn’t share this interest. Like many others, they didn’t particularly like mooncakes. I ended up eating a quarter of each. They really are too rich! Here are the fruits of my labor (which also includes gaining a few extra pounds):
DUCK YOLK MOONCAKE
White Lotus & Egg Yolk
Dan huang bai lian (蛋黄白莲)
Usually the type of mooncake is labeled on the top. If there are four characters arranged in this formation:
Then you read it as AC BD.
In the above picture, this mooncake would be dan huang bai lian (蛋黄白莲), which means egg yolk and white lotus. I personally like the combination of salty and sweet because of the juxtaposition created. However in this case, and with many other mooncakes I’ve had, the egg’s saltiness was too strong. It doesn’t mix well with the lotus paste and I also cannot get past the hunk of sweet paste I just swallowed. A quarter of this type of mooncake is usually enough for me. I may need a gulp of milk to get down another chunk. But it sure is pretty amazing how they were able to fit an egg yolk in the middle, very symbolic of the round moon hovering over all families enjoying this tradition.
SNOW SKIN MOONCAKE
I first heard about this type of mooncake when my friend commented on my Mid-Autumn Festival blog post with another blogger’s mooncake recipe. I had never heard of snow skin mooncakes, but they looked absolutely marvelous and CUTE. My grandmother gifted both of these snow skin mooncakes to me.
Spiced Salt (Not sure what it is but that’s the result of dictionary translation)
Bing pi yue bing – jiao yan wu ren (冰皮月饼 － 椒盐五仁)
This mooncake size was miniature, much more manageable than their larger counterparts, which are the typical mooncakes. According to my Pleco Chinese-English dictionary, jiao yan (椒盐) is a “spiced salt” “condiment.” Inside were many seeds and although it was rich, the various textures kept it from becoming too overwhelming. When eating the typical mooncake, it is just a thick rich paste, which quickly bores me after taking a couple of bites.
Bing pi yue bing – Bai lian rong wei (冰皮月饼 － 白莲蓉味)
This is the white lotus paste mooncake. As you can see from the filling, it is very different from the other snow skin mooncake. It had an almost powdery after texture. The filling, although a paste, appear to have a few crushed nuts or small seeds. It is small, but still very sweet, probably because of the paste texture filling.
Cao Mei (草莓)
This mooncake was from my grandmother. I was really intrigued by it being strawberry flavored. I never had a fruit flavored mooncake. I like strawberries. Maybe I’ll like this one.
It was fruity and sweet. But I wouldn’t say it was strawberry if you hadn’t told me. Just fruity. I did enjoy it and looking back at my notes, I did write: “yummy.”
I’m actually not sure what this flavor is. I was not able to decipher the characters and my Pleco dictionary wasn’t much help. All I know is that yue gong fu (粤公府) might refer to a “government post in Han dynasty” in Guangdong. My grandmother initially thought it said curry flavored, ga li (咖喱), but there was no way it was that. She read it with a magnifying glass, so I’m sure she misread it.
Whatever it is, it was delicious. It was definitely a fruity flavor. The breading tasted dryer than the one before but I like that type of doughy flavor. That’s probably why I like the blueberry scones served in Novack, a snack stand in Dartmouth College’s Baker library. I tried to make scones after craving for them…
I never knew mooncakes could contain anything else other than sweets. My mother said that when I went to China, I should try the meat flavored ones. The meat flavored ones?! She said we don’t see them in America because their shelf life is too short to survive the trip to America and selling.
My grandmother gave me all sweet mooncakes. As I walked back to Beijing Normal University, I walked into the nearby bakery, Auspicious Phoenix. There was a deal of 3 mooncakes for 10 yuan, less than $2! Probably because it was the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival and if they don’t sell it now, it would be wasted and the bakery would lose money. I used what little Chinese I knew to decipher the characters labeling each mooncake. While squinting and trying to read, I heard a couple of guys being surprised that a mooncake had beef in it. I quickly walked over and grab a mooncake. Sure enough, the word for beef (and cow), niu (牛), was on it! I later found another with the word for fish, yu (鱼). The third I bought was the white lotus paste with egg yolk, which was featured above.
? huang yu chi (？黄鱼翅)
Yep. My Pleco dictionary translated yu chi (鱼翅) as shark fin. When compiling this post, only now did I look up the translation. Now I am just wondering how many sharks were killed in the process… I felt very guilty, especially learning in AP Environmental Science that many sharks were killed only for their fins because they were a delicacy. I couldn’t read the first character because it wasn’t clear, as you can see in the picture.
Well. It tasted nasty. It smelled fishy. It had a slight fishy taste. The outer mooncake paste is sweet so it was a rather weird combination: sweet and fishy. I told a friend that I really liked this mooncake and that it was sweet. Trusting me, he threw an entire quarter of this mooncake in his mouth. Chewed and spat it out. He said he would never trust me again. Understood.
Xiang la niu rou (香辣牛肉)
It’s not really salty. If I did not know this was beef, I wouldn’t have guessed. When eating it, I tasted a slight spicy flavor. But I assumed that was the aftermath of eating dumplings dipped into vinegar and spicy oil. I tried another quarter of it and tasted the spiciness again. So yes, this mooncake actually had a slight spicy flavor. And if you look at it closely, the texture of it is almost… hairy… Take a look at the close up. Guess it’s proof that it’s actually beef?
Jing zhi yun tui yue bing (精制云腿月饼)
I received this mooncake from a Beijing Normal University student. She said it was actually her friend’s… But shhh… This was all in the name of research! And my desire to have a good tasting meat flavored mooncake. After all the hype my mom created, I wanted it. No, I needed it.
The outside breading was very crumbly. Pieces fell off when I was preparing the photoshoot. It was sweet, but I enjoy that type of doughy texture, versus the rich paste outer breading of the other mooncakes. Inside, it was obviously meat whereas I would not have known the beef mooncake was meat. It had a sweet and savory flavor, reminiscent of the bread with pork floss (rou song [肉松]) and cream from Chinese bakeries. All in all, I really liked it. I offered a piece to the friend I tricked with the shark fin mooncake. Of course, he was skeptical but he took a bite. I then scarfed down the remaining pieces and immediately wished I had more.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of different mooncake fillings. I really enjoyed sampling all of them. From the “wow this tastes great!” to “ugh… ew,” I now know that mooncakes come in all shapes and sizes and flavors. True, most people may not like the rich white lotus and egg yolk mooncake, but there are many different types of mooncakes that are delectable. Although mooncakes are eaten especially for the Mid-Autumn Festival, the real purpose of this holiday is to spend it with your family. But why limit it to one day? Make everyday count with your family.
P.S. Please check out Fiona’s blog at Life on Nanchang Lu, which gave me the clues needed to deduce that my gifted mooncakes last year were Suzhou styled. Her photos are amazing and she’s also a foodie!