Whether chewy or flaky, square or round, mooncakes are an indispensable delicacy during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival which happens on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month each year.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is linked to the legend of Chang’e, the Goddess of Immortality, and is dedicated to moon watching and lunar worship.
Mooncakes are generally not eaten by the buyer but given as gifts to friends and business colleagues.
In addition to being calorific due to their high fat and sugar content, mooncakes come in a variety of flavours to cater to all palates. According to an article in The Guardian the variety of mooncake offered says a lot about the giver’s taste and their links to Chinese tradition.
Young people are leaning toward more stylish flavours such as cappuccino, chocolate and Häagen-Dazs’ ice cream versions with older people sticking with more traditional flavours such as red bean, says the article.
As for giving them as business gifts, the article says that financial, technology and media companies prefer to buy the modern varieties, while construction firms and manufacturers opt for the more traditional versions.
Mooncakes are not just expressions of style and taste but also of personal political views.
When sovereignty disputes over the Diaoyu Islands prompted anti-Japanese protests in China, the website Shanghiist.com reported on a baker who chose to express the hostility toward Japan through his mooncakes.
Traditionally, mooncakes will have the flavour and the name of the bakery moulded in pastry on the top. Instead this set of four mooncakes had the slogans, ‘Down with Little Japan’, ‘Hate Little Japan’, ‘Bite Little Japan to Death’ and ‘Chase Little Japan Away’ baked onto them.
The use of mooncakes to express political sentiments is not new. A Taipei Times feature outlines how mooncakes appear in the folktale about the overthrow of Mongol rule.
The article says that the mooncakes were used 700 years ago as a medium by Ming revolutionaries to secretly distribute messages written on pieces of paper that ultimately lead to the Han Chinese revolt on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Cambodia seems to be bucking the trend in terms of being open to more modern flavours.
Luu Meng, Chef Entrepreneur of the Almond Group, says that the modern flavours his Yi Sang restaurants are offering this year don’t account for many sales.
“The modern flavours attract only 10 to 15 per cent of customers. People still go back to red bean, lotus and mixed nuts.”
Yi Sang’s mooncakes are the only ones in Phnom Penh that are halal and comply with International Organizational Standards. They’re imported from a Malaysian manufacturer that starts making the filling for their mooncakes a year in advance, says Luu Meng.
“People before just want to have mooncakes. Now they want to compare the health and quality control of the mooncakes rather than just to have a mooncake,” he said.
Bayon Bakery manager, ‘Puthy’, says that mooncakes are growing in popularity in Phnom Penh.
“This year our stocks were getting low very quickly and we had to make fresh batches so that we wouldn’t run out. They’re more popular than last year,” she said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Erika Mudie at [email protected]