What are they, why they’re a staple of Autumn

Emilee Geist

Chinese New Year: Ringing in Year of the Ox at Hunan Taste in Denville Reporter Mary Chao talks about dishes to ring in the Chinese New Year with David Hsiung of Hunan Taste in Denville Anne-Marie Caruso, NorthJersey.com As a little kid growing up in Taipei, I remember celebrating the […]


As a little kid growing up in Taipei, I remember celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival with my family. We would sit on our enclosed patio with its garden, water feature and swing set, and my family and I would nibble on mooncakes.

The festival — celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar, this year Sept. 21 — is like a Chinese Thanksgiving, a way to spend time with family and wish for health and prosperity. It celebrates the harvest, harmony, and the moon, which symbolizes unity in Chinese culture. 

Mooncakes, the signature dish of the holiday, are delicious pastry treats, either sweet or savory. They are round or square and about 4 inches in diameter, 1½ inches tall, and usually cut into quarters before serving. The tradition is to snack on them while sipping tea and gazing up at the moon. Many styles of mooncakes have one or two salty duck egg yolks inside them to symbolize the moon.

Mooncakes vary by region. Beijing-style, served in northern China, is dense and sweet with elaborate decoration. The Shanghai-style cake is savory and filled with pork, with a baked flaky crust. (You can find a Shanghai-style one made from scratch at Dumpling Den in Fort Lee, where a ground pork and leek patty is the center of the cake.)

 The Hong Kong-style is a blend of savory and sweet, with salted double yolks and lotus paste. Other Hong Hong-style cakes include five nuts and ham.

Some fillings are made from red bean paste or lotus paste, sometimes with nuts added. They are usually cut in quarters to be served.

In addition to China, Mid-Autumn Festivals are typically celebrated in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as Asian communities around the world.

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In Taiwan, they are given as gifts and in the early fall season, and our family will always end up with a few boxes, much like Americans gift fruit cakes during the holidays. My favorite part was always the yolks, and I would pick them out of the mooncakes, and eat the yolk and nibble a little bit on the lotus or red bean paste in the cake. A bit of a waste, but a way to consume my favorite part of the autumn treat. 

I grew up with mooncakes, and enjoy them, but the taste might not be for everyone.

In the U.S., you can find mooncakes at Chinese supermarkets and online at Amazon. Some Chinese restaurants offer the treats during this time of the year.

Prices vary depending on the type of filling.

At Kam Man Chinese Market in East Hanover, the mooncakes range from $8 for a single lotus or bean paste filled cake with one egg yolk to $68 for a box of four mooncakes with nuts and fruits and egg yolks. On Amazon, they start at $22 for a box four without yolk to $133 for a box of eight custard cakes. At Dumpling Den restaurant in Fort Lee, two small meat-filled cakes are $6. 

As mooncakes are given as gifts, they come in attractive packaging, often in decorative tin cans. The most popular mooncakes are the $68 packages at Kam Man, said staffer Yuan Huang. Because they are gifts and eaten once a year, people want to treat themselves and their families, he said.

Business people in Asia now often present mooncakes to their clients as gifts, which prompts a demand for high-end mooncakes, too.

If you think the $68 for four cakes is too rich for your blood, imagine the $1,300 mooncake sold by a Malaysian company last year, according to GoodyFeed.com. The fillings consist of ingredients such as ginseng, saffron, royal jelly, molasses, lotus seed and 24K edible gold.

What was that about prosperity?

Mary Chao 趙 慶 華 covers the Asian community and real estate for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news out of North Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]

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