It’s already that time of year again. The season when I get to feed my face with mooncakes.
Of course, I’m talking about Mid-Autumn Festival, held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar when there’s a full moon, usually around late September to early October (Sep. 13 in Vietnam this year).
Leading up to the festival, one of my favourite cultural events of the year, I start looking out for the strings of red and gold sidewalk stalls that start popping up all over Ho Chi Minh City.
A month out from the date, which is called Tet Trung Thu in Vietnam and a time for celebrating the beginning of the harvest, people start putting in their orders for boxes of these brightly coloured and elaborately decorated delights to give as gifts to friends, family and business associates.
But this time of year isn’t without its challenges.
Being thoughtful enough to give mooncake gifts doesn’t end just there.
It’s important not to run the risk of being thought of as a ‘Cheap Charlie’.
If you’re caught red handed giving away mooncakes on the actual date or, Moon Goddess forbid, the day after, you might be thought of as a cheapskate waiting for the sale-off discounts.
It’s best to get your mooncakes sorted (so you’ve got a better range to choose from) and distributed (so you look more sincere) well in advance.
In addition, amidst the excitement of the arrival of this traditional Asian celebration originating over 3,000 years ago, is the modern consumer’s green sensibilities.
The value of honouring tradition while understanding the negative effects of a “throwaway culture” is not just a trending topic, but a growing life choice.
Just a few days ago, a thought provoking article published by Channel News Asia online questioned the elaborate mooncake packaging in Singapore that is difficult to recycle and is damaging to the environment.
A 2018 globalwebindex Trend Report for 2019 indicates that 61% of Millennial consumers are more conscious than ever about their purchases, reflecting their beliefs and values, and Generation Z is close on their trail at 58%, indicating a long-term change is most likely taking place.
The statistics are currently skewed towards the US and UK, but a growing woke Asian generation is not far behind.
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As a supporter of creating a more sustainable consumer society in general, more specifically in the F&B industry here in Vietnam, The Bureau Asia “unboxed” the custom of mooncake giving and focused our review (and accompanying review photos) on the actual mooncakes themselves, not the fancy boxes which contain them.
I’ve given ratings out of five stars over four categories, with points given for a mooncake’s traditional recipe, trendy innovativeness, and for its savoury or sweet taste.
Here’s hoping next year we see less plastic, less lacquer and more recyclable gift boxes and inventive packaging from traditional bakeries, modern coffee chains, Chinese restaurants, and five-star hotels, not only in Vietnam, but in the whole of Asia.
Who knows, we may begin to see more unboxed or even ‘naked’ mooncakes!
As they say, don’t judge something by its cover, it’s what’s inside that counts.
Le Méridien Saigon
Sesame (Single Yolk)
Its thin crust melts away in your mouth and plunges you deep into a dense pool of dark black sesame.
Its smell and taste isn’t overpowering.
When you have a mooncake you only want to have a small shared piece, but with this delicately flavoured cake you want to indulge in its entirety.
The single egg yolk is quite petite but complements this tasty morsel perfectly.
Green Tea Lotus (Single Yolk)
An interesting layer of flavours are revealed one at a time with this combination.
The subtle sweetness of the lotus paste opens the taste buds, then followed by the moist, salty goodness of the egg yolk, ending with an airy freshness of green tea slowly sneaking into the back of your mouth all within a millisecond.
Green Bean (Single Yolk)
This cake’s excitingly moist and sticky crust creates excitement, but soon gives way to a crumbly and dry main event.
For amateur mooncake eaters, green bean when cooked is actually coloured white.
Le Meridien’s 2019 mooncakes come with Folliet black tea, so enjoy a cuppa with this one.
Takesumi (Single Yolk)
I had to look this up – take (竹) means bamboo, and sumi (炭) means charcoal in Japanese.
Used for centuries in Asia for detoxing, purifying and protecting, the bamboo and charcoal has no discernible taste.
The thick black paste is a simple sugar bomb that engulfs the senses.
New World Saigon Hotel
Roasted Chicken (Single Yolk)
It’s a meal and dessert in one!
A lovely savoury-sweet delight, this compact cake with lots of crunchy nuts and jellied candies gives this Asian staple a taste of a western holiday meal.
Think eating Christmas chicken stuffing at lunch, then finishing it off with fruitcake.
It’s an acquired taste, but definitely a traditional star.
Pandan Lotus (Single Yolk)
Upon slicing this mooncake, a combined scent of pandan leaves, lotus (and is that coconut?) erupts.
While most eaters focus on the filling, don’t rush-in with this gem.
The soft sticky crust of New World Hotel’s 2019 mooncake collection shines with this recipe.
This Vietnamese twist to the Italian classic has strong dark elements. The coffee taste overpowers its soft light cheese filling just a bit.
Its boldness calls for a pairing of a light floral tea, such as jasmine or chamomile for balance.
Almond Chocolate Cheese
This aromatic delight is surprisingly light and mildly sweet.
What it lacks in nutty crunchiness, it compensates in its smooth and solid structure.
The chocolate blends well with a light layer of cheese in the middle.
Bao Bei Chinese Restaurant
Green Tea Almond Mooncake
If you’re a glutton for mooncakes and want to eat the entire box, make this your first bite to ease you into it.
It’s less sweet and has a refreshing after-hint of matcha.
Get that toothpick ready to pick out the almond seeds from between your teeth and make sure they don’t go to waste.
Mixed Savoury Mooncake (Single Yolk)
Better have a sharp knife to cut through this thick chunk of nuts, meat, candied fruit and duck egg combination.
The aroma when you first slice it open, takes you to the nearest Chinatown.
The lavish fillings in this thinly-crusted mooncake are super bold and get your palate in a red lantern kind of mood.
Lotus Mooncake (Single Yolk)
There are just some recipes you don’t mess with, unless it’s for the purpose of making healthier options.
This pure lotus single yolk delight has less sugar, making your cravings less guilty.
Lava Golden Butter Mooncake
Oozing with buttery goodness with just the right balance of salty duck egg flavour. It’s like eating the warm sun.
Note: This golden delight from Bao Bei isn’t for sharing, no matter what the traditional mooncake rituals may say.
Words and Photos by Melanie Casul. Follow Melanie on Instagram at @melaniecasul
This is not a sponsored post. All views expressed by the author are her own. The Bureau Asia invited 10 establishments to participate in this review post. Only the featured establishments in this article chose to participate.
Special thanks to Le Meridien Saigon, New World Saigon Hotel & Bao Bei Chinese Restaurant