The Chinese celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival (or Moon Cake Festival) on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month – which falls this year on October 4th! Traditionally, moon cakes were given as sacrifices to the moon during the Mid-Autumn Festival, however, more recently, moon cakes are made and sold in celebration during this time of year. People give moon cakes to relatives, friends, and business associates as a way to wish them prosperity and long life.
I went around Chinatown this week to find the best places to get moon cakes to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival this Wednesday and I learned a lot, not only about the history of the moon cake, but also about the people who make them.
If there is a prettier moon cake out there, I haven’t seen it. Elvin’s moon cakes are not only the best looking, but they’re the best tasting as well. Hidden in a small strip mall in Kapalama, Elvin’s Bakery makes their own moon cakes fresh, but only sells them around the mid-Autumn Festival. They have flavors such as: red bean, lotus paste, taro, mung bean paste, 5 nut & ham, squash, and all those varieties with egg yolk.
I tried both the red bean and the lotus paste cakes and they were DELICIOUS! The filling was smooth and dense and was really tasty without being too sweet. The texture was what was wonderful. They used smooth bean paste and the filling just seemed to melt over my tongue as I ate it. The lotus paste was probably the best – it had a very subtle flavor, wasn’t too sweet and had a richness to it. The outside crust was light and had a great taste and as stated above, was probably the prettiest moon cake I’ve seen. Elvin’s moon cakes are HUGE and come wrapped in a pretty plastic – and each one ranges in price from about $5.50 to $6.50 for one. They also sell mini moon cakes as well.
One of the things I liked the most was speaking with the owners there – they told me some of the history of the moon cake and told me that the older generation only likes the 5 nut and ham – to them, that is the true moon cake. They very generously offered me a sample of their 5 nut moon cake and it was delicious! It had a rich, nutty taste to it and a little bit of savoriness from the ham, but it was, by far, the best tasting 5 nut moon cake that I ever tasted. The owner went on to mention that those of our generation tend to prefer the lotus paste or the red bean, but the traditional moon cake is the 5 nut. Elvin’s may be a little out of the way in Kapalama, but they are definitely worth the trip if you are looking for quality moon cake!!
Lotus Market is a rather new little market around the corner from Water Drop Vegetarian House on Alakea St, across the street from my office. I spoke with one of the owners who makes her moon cakes fresh in a variety of flavors: red bean, black sesame, green tea, and lotus seed. They also have what they call ICE Moon Cakes which are served cold and the outside is made of mochi. They let me have a sample of some and it was delicious!!
The filling was sweet and tasty – the red bean was made with the textured bean mix (or what the Japanese call Tsubuan – which just means that the beans are left whole in the mixture and not pureed until they are smooth like other red bean pastes.) The outside crust was pleasantly chewy and sweet. The moon cake itself was cute in size and came in a set of 4 for about $9.99. The good thing about the smaller size and 4 pack is that you can try a variety of flavors all at once!
Probably the nicest thing about Lotus Market was the people who work there. They were friendly, very helpful, and they definitely take pride in their work. I got such wonderful service there that I think I’ll go back to buy a set of 4 Ice Moon Cakes before the 4th!
U Choice is one of the few places that make moon cake year round (most only make it seasonally available during the mid-Autumn Festival season.) Their moon cake is smaller in size and they only make one flavor… red bean. Their filling is of the coarse bean style (as opposed to the smooth) and their crust outside is on the soft side, not really flaky and not chewy, but tasty nonetheless. Their moon cakes run about $1.25 each and are a good way to get your moon cake fix during the off season!
Sing Cheong Yuan probably has the widest selection of moon cake. Their entire bottom display case (and a few spaces on their side displays) are dedicated to moon cakes during this season! They have flavors such as: black sugar, 5 nut and ham, lotus seed, melon, plus all those flavors with egg yolk. Two moon cakes from Sing Cheong Yuan would run you about $12.
I tried the black sugar and the 5 nut & ham cakes. The moon cakes were HUGE and VERY heavy! The bean paste in the black sugar cake was smooth and almost silky in texture and was a great deal sweeter than a lot of the others that I tried. The 5 nut was very rich in flavor and had a deep nutty flavor – I could see and taste walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pepitas. The filling also had a little savoriness to it from the ham. Sing Cheong Yuan is a very good place to get a wide variety of very traditional moon cakes.
Ba-Le makes their moon cakes year round and their cakes are probably the most different from any others I have tried. They are smaller in size and golden on the outside and filled with fruits and coconut. Each one runs about $2.50.
The thing that makes these moon cakes different is the crust – it’s very flaky, unlike the others. The inside is sweet from all the fruits, but also has a bit of savoriness to it, which is nice. If you are looking for something a little different, Ba-Le is a pretty good option.
Bread House Bakery is just steps away from Sing Cheong Yuan and has a variety of pastries in large plastic cases. I was pleasantly surprised that they made moon cakes as well. Their moon cakes are large in size and come in pretty gold containers. They have red bean moon cakes and also mango (Oooooh!) Each one will run you about $4.50.
The thing about Bread House Bakery is that the outside crust is much thicker than most moon cakes I’ve tried, but it had the best taste! The crust is probably the best part of this moon cake – it’s a little sweet and VERY tasty and could be a pastry on its own! I tried the red bean (the nice lady there only told me about the mango after I had purchased my red bean – maybe next time!) and the filling is of the textured, coarse bean style and on its own didn’t seem to be sweetened or altered at all. The moon cake as a whole was HUGE, but not as dense as Sing Cheong Yuan. Still a very good cake with a VERY good crust!
So there you have my moon cake tasting results – just in time for the mid-Autumn Festival this Wednesday (Oct 4th!) So, what I’d love to know is… have you ever tried moon cake before? If so, do you have a favorite? Please let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear about it!!
Note: All photos taken by Sheri (aka Tiny Asian Pastry Girl)