Tonight, I finally finished my last piece of the box of moon cakes that I bought last Sunday in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival! Like turkeys to Thanksgiving, moon cakes are the center pieces for the Chinese during our Mid-Autumn Festival that can't be without. Unlike turkeys, moon cakes aren't sold year-round, Chinese bakeries only sell moon cakes once a year, and we only get to buy and eat them once a year. These moon cakes generate lots of money for the bakeries during Mid-Autumn Festival because every Chinese buy them and give them as gifts to their business partners, their bosses, their employees and literally anybody whom they want to maintain a good relationship with. My brother-in-laws used to bring boxes of moon cakes to my parents when they were dating my sisters. Any boy who doesn't bring a couple good boxes of moon cakes to his girlfriend's parents are considered to be a loser whom her parents will relentlessly nag their daughter to dump. So moon cakes are actually more important to the Chinese than turkeys are to the Americans. After all, no American parents are expecting their daughters' boyfriends to gift them turkeys during Thanksgiving to judge whether they are good catches for their daughters.....
Made in America, each of the four moon cakes was plastic wrapped and packaged in a beautiful tin box. I had discarded the plastic wrap so I could take a better photo of the moon cake. This is from a combo box with 4 flavors. The filling inside this particular moon cake is date paste with pieces of walnuts. The four Chinese characters for this particular flavor is part of the design of the crust.
I think the idea of the moon cake is quite similar to America's pecan pies. It's quite sweet and we usually consume only 1 quarter each time; with a cup of hot and freshly brewed Chinese tea or green tea. Usually only the high quality of tea leaves are used because moon cakes are pricey and they should only be paired with pricey tea. When I was a kid, I used to just put the entire quarter in my mouth. But my parents would lecture me every time when they saw me do that saying I was wasting my moon cake. Moon cakes are supposed to be consumed like red wine, slowly, so the mouth is given plenty of time to really taste the flavor.
Different regions in China actually have very different moon cakes. This style is the traditional Cantonese style from the Guaugdong Province in Southern China. My grandparents in Hong Kong say this style of moon cakes has pretty much stayed the same since they were little kids in China. Every time when I look at a moon cake like this, I feel a connection with my ancestors whom I never met because even though my great grandparents had been long dead, they actually were eating the same kind of moon cakes 100 years ago in China, as I'm nowadays.
When I was a kid, there was once upon a time when moon cakes were handmade in small quantities by family run bakeries in Hong Kong. But like everything else in the late 80s and early 90s, the production of moon cakes was outsourced to factories in China for mass production. The quality and taste then deteriorated. The quality got even worse in recent years since the emergence of a huge demand of moon cakes from the Chinese people within China. There were many years we didn't eat our traditional moon cakes in Hong Kong. We just passed them on to be re-gifted to someone else. Our family think just because we're picky eaters, it doesn't mean other people don't like them....Then one day when I was in a Chinese grocery store here in Los Angeles, I saw many Chinese people loading boxes of moon cakes onto their shopping carts. Out of curiosity, I asked why they bought so many. They told me they bought them to mail to their relatives in China. I asked them why because they were all made in China to begin with. They then told me while pointing at certain piles of boxes, "Yeah, don't buy those brands, those are not as good, they are imported from China, but we are buying an American brand that makes the moon cakes 100% here in America!! We had tried all the brands, this American brand is the best!!"
So I got one box to try out, and I have to say, sometimes it's very beneficial to talk to strangers in a grocery store, particularly the Chinese immigrants, because they know where to get good food.....
American made moon cakes are of course a lot more expensive than the ones imported from China. This box cost US$35, while many made in China brands cost under $20 per box. But you get what you pay for. These are the best moon cakes I've had for many years. I also bought several boxes and shipped to my family. They also love them. Now, we are helping America to reverse the trade deficit, however small the impact is.