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Mid-Autumn Festival – It’s Time For Mooncakes, A Taste Test of Local Mooncakes

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**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2012/09/mid-a...

Right now is a major Chinese holiday called Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie 中秋節); the actual date this year is September 30th, but it’s celebrated for a few weeks coming up to it. There is a long story associated with the holiday, but I’ll leave you to read this Wikipedia article to find out more about that (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid-Autu...). The reason you probably know about this holiday (assuming you’re not Chinese) is that people traditionally eat mooncakes at this time and right now if you go into any Chinese bakery or supermarket you will notice mooncakes everywhere.

Most mooncakes you will find here are imported from places such as Hong Kong, China and Malaysia, but some of the bakeries in Chinatown still make their own. I decided that it would be interesting to go try a few of the bakeries that are well known for their mooncakes, so that’s what this post is all about as I’d rather have a fresh mooncake than one that had to be imported.
Mooncakes are one of those things that you will tend to find that people either love or hate. I really like them, but I’ve had friends compare them to fruitcake in that it’s some weird traditional dessert people eat at a certain time of year, but no one likes them. Also, I’m writing about Cantonese style mooncakes, which will have a sweet filling generally made from lotus seed paste, red bean or winter melon paste. They can also contain salted duck egg yolks, melon seeds and mixed nuts and dried fruits. Other provinces in China have their own version of mooncakes, but I grew up eating Cantonese style mooncakes and that’s what’s readily available in NY, so that’s what I’m writing about. You can read this Wikipedia article about mooncakes to learn more about the various regional versions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mooncake).

The three bakeries I tried were Kwong Wah, Lung Moon and New Golden Fung. I also bought one Hong Kong brand from Hong Kong Supermarket, which I thought was Wing Wah 榮華(a very famous HK brand), but it was the wrong brand. I was in a rush and saw the characters 榮華 in the name and just bought them, but I later realized that it wasn’t Wing Wah and was actually Grand Fortune. I should’ve known better since the box was so cheap at $15 for 4 mooncakes. Oh well, next time I’ll get the right brand. If you want to read more about Wing Wah, here’s a Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wing_Wah).

For all the mooncake I tried, I got white lotus seed with one egg yolk.

Kwong Wah: The filling was extremely smooth, which was weird because while it’s supposed to be smooth this was just too smooth; it was also quite heavy, oily, not that sweet and tasted strongly of the lotus seed. The egg yolk was a little dry and didn’t have great flavor. The crust was fairly thin and a bit on the oily side. Overall, I thought it was fairly mediocre and not worth the calories. 6/10

Lung Moon: The filling’s texture was exactly how it should be; it was smooth, but still had some texture. The flavoring was quite good; a nice lotus seed flavor that was much better than Kwong Wah and also sweeter than Kwong Wah, but I’d say that it was “normal” sweetness for a mooncake. The egg yolk was a bit on dry side, but nicely salty which I really like against the sweetness of the mooncake. The crust was nice and not too oily or thick. Overall, I thought this was a surprisingly pretty respectable mooncake and worth trying. 7.75/10

New Golden Fung: The filling had a similar consistency as Lung Moon, which was good. It was sweeter than Kwong Wah, but not as sweet as Lung Moon and the lotus seed flavor was by far the least pronounced of the three to the point where it was almost undetectable. The egg yolk was very salty and too dry. The crust was quite crusty, which while not normal I kind of liked. Overall, it was a decent mooncake, but unremarkable mooncake that I found to be a little too plain as the lotus seed flavor was non-existent. 7/10
Grand Fortune: The filling was a quite dry with an odd chemical-y flavor that overpowered the lotus seed flavor. The egg yolk was very small and not salty enough. The crust was a little dry and rather thick. Overall, these were terrible, one of the worst brands I’ve ever tried, definitely do not buy these. 4/10

Overall, Lung Moon was definitely the best and the only one I would recommend trying. However, I still would default back to the Foh San brand of pandan flavored mooncakes that I’ve been buying for the last two years( http://www.lauhound.com/2011/09/foh-s... ), which you can find at most Malaysian restaurants in NY.

Also, if you happen to have any recommendations I’d love to hear about them!

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  1. Mooncakes are a big deal in Chinese culture. It's a pastry, and like chocolates, they don't keep or freeze well, and it's not uncommon to pre-order boxes from a good restaurant to give away as gifts. I don't know how American mooncakes compare, but I vaguely recall family friends or relatives making the efffort of sending over the "really good stuff" from bakeries in Hong Kong via mail, or suitcase.

    It's too bad it hasn't really caught on like other Chinese foods. For whatever reason, the flavor profile is too alien or something; if you are used to it, eating a slice of mooncake is an extremely pleasurable indulgence.

    6 Replies
    1. re: calf

      well you can actually preserve them fairly easily, alot of famous brands such as wing wah from hong kong (well known restaurant in yuen long) are sold in the super markets here. I also buy foh san from malaysia (its a well known dim sum restaurant in ipoh). But, yah they are definitely a big deal and can get kind of expensive for the really good ones.

      I don't think it's something that would really catch on with mainstream america, i dont think the flavor profile is right. Im not even how well it catches on with younger generations of chinese or not, i feel like it's old people food (although i like old people food so hence i really like moon cakes)

      1. re: Lau

        In general agreement. I'd also say that it is likely for the average Joe in the US to think of them as exorbitantly expensive for what they seem to be, especially the better ones.

        I gave some to two former colleagues of mine (both Caucasians) who reported back that they found it interesting and/or liked it but I got the sense it was not something they'd rush out to buy.

        1. re: Lau

          I've liked moon cakes at least since the years I spent in Malaysia in the mid 70s. I prefer the ones without the salty duck eggs in them, though. But boy are they fattening! :-)

          How much are the Foh San moon cakes selling for?

          1. re: Pan

            @huiray - ive had the same reaction, but i've only given them to other people (who don't already know what they are) a few times

            @Pan - they are horrible for you, i normally consume about 1-2 mooncakes in total during Mid-Autumn festival (one has ~1000 calories, tons of fat + sugar), but I love a duck egg i think the saltiness makes it so much better! As far as Foh San, I can't remember b/c i haven't bought one this year (I would've gone an bought one yesterday, but I decided to do this local taste testing, I'll buy one before the 30th), but I'm pretty sure they were pretty reasonably priced I want to say like ~$4 per mooncake, which is pretty standard

        2. re: calf

          Also if anyone is a wuss like me and doesn't really have a taste for the old school mooncakes (which I agree are probably the quintessential Chinese old people food) they have a new kind of mooncake called " FROSTY " mooncake. It's somewhat like a mochi ice cream in that it is frozen with a soft skin on the outside. They are also usually just sweet or fruit flavored lacking the sweet and salty complexity of old fashioned mooncakes. Po Wing Hong on Elizabeth has them on offer $5.75 for a pack of two small fruit flavored mooncakes and they have a sweet and salty durian one selling for $6.50. I like them!

          1. re: pravit

            do you mean snowskin mooncakes?

        3. IIRC Double Crispy has good mooncakes, and they have the snowskin variety, if that's your thing. I'll have to give Lung Moon another try. I have always liked their hopia, but I wasn't a big fan of the mooncake.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JungMann

            i generally like double crispy as bakery, so ill check it out although i generally prefer traditional mooncakes to the snowskin variety

            lung moon has a decent mooncake, its old school traditional, but it tastes roughly how it should

          2. Thanks for the post Lau! I've never tried mooncakes although I've heard of them numerous times, I never knew what was in them so from a novice's standpoint your post was very informative. If I'm in Chinatown this month for dim sum I'll be sure to try a mooncake.

            2 Replies
              1. re: alkonost

                @alkonost - glad it was helpful. you should def try the foh san one, I heard overseas asian shutdown, so i'd call some of the other malaysian restaurants in chinatown to see if they're selling them. I know the malay restaurants in flushing are selling them, but i bet some of the Chinatown ones are too

              2. I too love Lung Moon mooncakes. I found them by accidents many years ago after eating at Pho Viet Huong. I actually much prefer the snowskin variety, do you happen to know where in Chinatown I can find some?

                1 Reply
                1. re: nohofoods

                  they definitely sell them in chinatown, but i can't remember who sells them

                  I'm going to go try Double Crispy's mooncake today as I'm doing an addendum to this post...i feel like DC might have them but I'll let you know

                2. Lau, did you happen to try any from Manna House? I had sections of 6-8 separate double yolk white lotus seed ones and I was wondering (if you've given them a shot this year) how they compared to the other ones you've tried. The yolks were large and slightly oily. Nothing worse than a dried up shriveled yolk. The paste was just the right amount of sweet for me and dense but not too cloying. I was able to eat one and not get that feeling of having a brick in your chest that some mooncakes give you. It was much, much better than the ones out of a can from "double happiness," which tasted sort of stale and had dry yolks. I don't buy mooncakes, I generally sample other people's so if I can figure out how the Manna House ones rank amongst the ones you've had I can be more selective and save the calories for the tastier ones.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

                    i did not try them, i ended up trying:
                    - double crispy's (mediocre)
                    - new wing wah (pretty decent, but made exclusively for them in china, so technically not locally made)
                    - koi palace in daly city, CA (quite good, probably up to asia standards)

                    i need to write a follow up review, but i've been traveling for work, so i havent had a chance, will get it up by this weekend at latest

                    1. Though of Chinese ethnic background and grew up in Hong Kong, I can never stand the stuff! Think its the worst Chinese food creation of all time! Didn't know what kind of palette the Emperor who loved the first creation has?! Mushy, hidden grease, salty and mostly overly sweet filling! What a concoction?!!
                      However. with the advent of using 'ice cream' as filling and chocolate as crust, this 'new' invention has at least become more palatable to me.
                      Just my personal two cents! Not to start an argument!!

                      14 Replies
                      1. re: Charles Yu

                        haha as i said this has to be like the most divisive chinese food of all time, its always either love or hate

                        1. re: Lau

                          I'm definitely a lover; I don't know why we have so many haters coming to this thread to trash mooncakes.

                          I love dense, hearty foods in general, and I'm always wary of what I read on Chowhound because it seems like a lot of people like light/delicate foods here and if I blindly followed their recs I'd probably end up disappointed much of the time.

                          Lau, I'm actually surprised that you are pro-mooncake because you're such a fan of HK/Chiuchou foods which seem to mostly tend towards the lighter side as far as Chinese food goes.

                          Mooncakes and fruitcake forever!

                          1. re: Humbucker

                            well i can see why people would not like them, they are heavy and sweet and definitely have a very old school kind of taste to them

                            ive always liked them since i was a little kid, idk maybe thats why i like them bc i grew up eating them, but whatever the reason i find them delicious although i try not to eat many of them bc they are so unhealthy. although end of day they are cantonese right? haha

                            1. re: Lau

                              Charles Yu is the first Chinese person I've heard about that hates moon cakes. I happen to love them. I also love the lotus cakes, and different bean cakes. I wonder if Charles Yu hates those too. I never saw the chocolate outside with ice cream variety , but I would surely try those too.

                              1. re: foodwhisperer

                                Yup! Do call me weird in this area!!
                                Somehow the dense very sweet lotus or bean filling combined with the salty ingredients like the salted duck egg yolks or diced Chinese Ham somehow just get to me?!!
                                However, I do LOVE dense Fruit Cakes!! The more liquor soaked fruits and nuts, the better! Ha!

                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                  Someone needs to make a fruitcake with salted egg yorks and country ham.

                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                    I used to go crazy over mooncakes, eating them whole burger-like. I'd gotten over that 'hungry ghost' stage now, and also, with the advancement in age, seemed to have developed an aversion against anything deemed "too sweet".

                                    However, I still can't resist a sliver of good mooncake every now and then. Just sharing some photos I snapped around Singapore the past few days as we go mooncake-hunting - the festival culminates next Thursday, 19 Sep.

                                    1. re: klyeoh

                                      yah i eat them in quarters usually. when i was a kid id just eat the whole thing; its not that they're too sweet for me, its that they're too heavy and i feel kinda gross if i eat the whole thing

                                      im going to go walk around chinatown and try some this weekend

                                      man these pics, at times like these i wish i lived in a chinese city....im like kid in a candy store in these types of places

                                      1. re: Lau

                                        I'd feel gross *after* eating a whole mooncake, but definitely not *while* I was eating it.

                                        1. re: Humbucker

                                          yah i eat really fast when im hungry and if i don't stop i don't realize how full i am and that's when i get all sick, so i always stop myself so i don't feel all disgusting after

                                          1. re: Lau

                                            Mooncakes are sort of like caviar.

                                            It's good in small bites, or amounts. Take a big bite or chunks of mooncakes at one time, or tablespoon fulls of caviar, and it's just kind of off-putting.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              I think I feel exactly the opposite! If it's not a mouth filling bite, it's even worth eating.

                                              However, the is coming from a guy who eats hummus by the spoonful and thinks Marmite is best applied with a heavy hand.

                                              If mooncakes weren't so bad for you, I'm pretty sure I would be able to devour two a day.

                                              1. re: Humbucker

                                                i find it somewhat addicting once i start eating it which is part of the reason ill cut a quarter piece out and eat it like that instead of just picking it up and biting into it

                                          2. re: Humbucker

                                            I actually had no idea you are supposed to slice mooncake the first time I had one. They're so small it's like slicing out a section of a Hostess snack cake! I probably had two the first time I tried them and although I know better now, I wouldn't be surprised if I ate a whole one last year. Friends brought me a tin from Hong Kong that were superb.

                          2. any idea how many calories are in one moon cake? Probably more than 2 large bagels?

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: Monica

                              Have done the research before :) here you go!

                              芝士月餅 (1 個) (Cheese Mooncake - 1 pcs) / 580

                              冰皮月餅 (Snowy Mooncake - 100g) / 358

                              五仁月餅 (Five Seeds Mooncake - 100g) / 374

                              潮洲酥皮月餅 (Pastry Mooncake in Chiu Chow Style - 100g) / 435

                              雙黃黃蓮蓉月餅 (Double Yolks Yellow Lotus Seed Paste Mooncake - 100g) / 424

                              雙黃白蓮蓉月餅 (Double Yolks White Lotus Seed Paste Mooncake - 100g) / 393

                              For the full list (sorry it is in Chinese) http://www.e-zone.com.hk/discuz/viewt...

                              1. re: nomadmanhattan

                                Cheese mooncake? I don't think I've ever seen that before. Is it sweet or savory?

                              2. re: Monica

                                Keep in mind that different brands/types/fillings are different. Traditional normal size mooncakes are about 250g (?). So apply it to the table below, that is about 1000 cal per mooncake !

                                in one word, very bad for you, especially if you are on diet.

                                1. re: nomadmanhattan

                                  haha, I knew it would be more than 2 large bagels...
                                  thanks for the research. It's good that you only eat this once a year.

                                  1. re: nomadmanhattan

                                    Maybe it would be an awesome survival food, though. Nutritionally dense, like lembas bread.

                                    1. re: Humbucker

                                      I wonder what's more calorically dense - mooncakes or fruitcakes

                                      1. re: Humbucker

                                        it is savory and usually smaller, but more expensive, than regular/traditional ones.

                                      2. re: nomadmanhattan

                                        yah i was going to say those sound very low

                                        1. re: Lau

                                          @ Lau that is why it is the holiday of sharing ;P I always see Mid-autumn day the equivalence to Thanksgiving. you suppose not to eat the whole mooncake yourself but slice and share, haha

                                          1. re: nomadmanhattan

                                            haha i dont share! i just air seal it and take 3 or 4 days to eat it

                                            1. re: Lau

                                              Only applicable when you are eating ONE mooncake at a time. In my cases, there are always a box of mooncake (7 stars and a moon, literally translated) coming with 3 or 4 different flavors :/ So whenever I got those, I just invited all my coworkers to share with me so I don't have to put those weight , haha

                                              1. re: nomadmanhattan

                                                We should have a mooncake chowdown ala the Midtownlunch Streetmeatpalooza.

                                                1. re: Humbucker

                                                  haha, if it is not just mooncake - I doubt any one here can really chowdown more than one cake at a time, but including many other mid-autumn fest goodies, I am in!

                                    2. Do you know if any of those mooncakes are vegetarian? Most places I've come across use lard in their mooncakes.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Minerva0501

                                        hmm never heard of one although its possible they exist...if u google it apparently they do exist

                                        1. re: Minerva0501

                                          There are vegetarian ones, but I have not come across any in Manhattan (or Flushing).

                                        2. i stand corrected i just found this on yelp. looks like tai pan had snow skin mooncakes