Whether you buy them, eat them, give them away or just want nothing to do with them, as the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, there’s no escaping the billboard and bus stop ads pitching moon cakes.
The traditionally bland (compared to Western deserts) and odd textured pastries are widely considered an acquired taste, but pay a little closer attention to these promotions and you’ll find that change is present. Some new flavors are for the adventurous only; it takes a certain breed to eat an abalone moon cake.
The change is an adjustment to a market that was suffering as the Chinese palate changed for richer treats. However, while attitudes are changing, behavior is not. Moon cakes, with a 2,000-year history, are eaten in tribute to the moon and family. Recently, new trends have bolstered sales as hotels, restaurants and coffee and flower shops join the market with their own versions.
To attract wealthier customers who care more about appearances than taste, makers of the lard-based deserts have promoted a series of so called “nutritional” or “health care” moon cakes made of expensive rare ingredients such as shark’s fin and bird’s nest. The skin-tightening collagen contained in these ingredients puts them in high demand among Chinese society, especially for women.
For others who can’t afford the 1,000’s of RMB for a case of moon cakes, regular Chinese medicine and tonic moon cakes can still be consumed. Popular choices include ginseng, goji (wolfberries) and dried longan flesh. Goji is known to be good for the eyes, while dried longan flesh is said to relieve insomnia and amnesia.
The newest mid-autumn novelty has to be the cocktail flavored versions sold by a high-end hotel. Others are pushing BBQ chicken-filled and coffee versions. But a favorite has to be pu’er tea moon cakes, which are technically just tea pressed into a moon cake shape.
Pu’er tea is a variety of fermented dark tea produced in Yunnan Province and can be aged to improve its flavor. Usually it is stored loose or pressed into various shapes. So it’s a clever maneuver to combine tea and moon cake together. It’s a drinkable moon cake; it’s healthy and a great gift for tea lovers. It also can be kept for years, maintaining a quality taste.