The third in a series, MoMo & Coco will continue to attempt to debunk the myth that “fortune cookies” and “banana fritters” are a “Chinese” dessert, or worse, that they are the be-all and end-all of Chinese desserts — as tragically believed and opined by so-called professional food writers (here and here). We have reviewed Melbourne’s yum cha desserts as well as Chinese New Year desserts. To mark the Chinese community’s Mid Autumn Festival, we bring you a brief introduction to the Chinese dessert that is the mooncake. Note that a more detailed review on mooncakes will shortly follow.
Mooncakes in Melbourne (月饼)
What does a mooncake actually taste like?
It is certainly hard to place. Think savoury with a whisper of sweet tones encased in an unquestionably dense, sometimes circular, sometimes square, sometimes octagonal creation. The outer layer of the mooncake is a hardened crust made from a labour-intensive process of mixing sugar, flour, oil and lard. It is is not flaky or buttery, but slightly chewy. Its surface is usually glossy and a golden-brown colour, stamped with the typical symbols for peace, good luck, prosperity, longevity etc that are considered auspicious in Chinese custom, or alternatively, with intricately formed floral, bird or fish designs. The inner layer of the mooncake varies. The most traditional type of mooncakes are composed of a red bean or white or yellow lotus paste, and especially in Hong Kong and Guangdong, are centred with multiple salted egg yolks. In Australia, most mooncakes on offer do not incorporate a yolk component, probably because of Australian Customs & Quarantine’s (overly) strict (dare we say, arbitrary?) regulations. Increasingly, in Hong Kong especially, there has been greater experimentation with flavours. In general though, mooncake flavours are muted. Usually, one does not eat more than an eighth of the mooncake at a time. With strong Chinese tea. If you insist though, one mooncake has about the same amount of calories as two meals so would be certainly be an indulgent meal replacement idea! Below is a recently-purchased box of mooncakes from a Chinese grocery store in Melbourne’s south-east/east.
The mooncake below is a slight twist on the classical Cantonese-style mooncake: “Green Tea with a heart of Red Bean.”
The mooncake below brings a touch of South-East Asia to the mooncake: “Pandan with a heart of White Lotus.“
The mooncake below is a “Sweet Potato” mooncake, a mooncake filling much-loved especially in the northern aspects of China.
The mooncake below is a version of the “snowy skin mooncake,” which is gaining popularity in the Hong Kong and Singaporean Chinese community. The crust of the mooncake is made of glutinous rice (instead of the usual sugar, flour, lard and oil mixture) and is considered to be “healthier.” It is often served freezer-cold instead of at room temperature, and does not have as long a shelf life as the traditional golden-brown coloured mooncakes. The inside layer of the mooncake below is a “Mung Bean with heart of Water Chestnut.”
Where to find mooncakes in Melbourne?
We have yet to come across a Chinese restaurant in Melbourne that makes this delicacy in-house. For now therefore, dessert-lovers have three options:
1. Visit a local Chinese grocery store
2. Order online or do a “sneaky import” from overseas
3. Acquire a very patient, old Chinese grandmother 🙂