MOONCAKES, SNACKS, DESSERTS AND SWEETS IN CHINA

DESSERTS AND SNACKS IN CHINA

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Desserts and sweets are often made with sweet bean paste. Jello-like jellies are sometimes served as a topping on ice cream. Fruit such as watermelon, melon, apples or pears are often eaten as desert. Among the goodies found on the streets are tanghuku (sugar-coated or syrup-covered fruit on a stick) and shaved ice topped with fruit syrups and six kinds of sweet beans. British-influenced egg-custard tarts are found in Hong Kong , Shanghai and some southern cities. Store sell White Rabbit creamy candies. Chinese-style restaurants generally don’t offer desserts.The Chinese customarily eat various kinds of cakes for different seasons, temple festivities, funerals, and weddings. Eating New Year's Cakes symbolizes prosperity for the coming year. The consumption of "longevity peaches" on birthdays represents a long and happy life. Ice cream and chocolate are becoming increasingly popular among the Chinese middle class.

The ancient Chinese began eating ice cream-like deserts around 2000 B.C. Ancient noblemen were particularly fond of a soft paste made with soft rice and milk, packed with snow. By the 13th century a variety of iced deserts could be purchased from vendors on the streets of Beijing. Marco Polo reportedly brought recipes from ice-cream-like chilled milk deserts from China.

Snacks include Prawn Crackers and Chicken-Flavored Chicken Rings. Cheetos was one of the first international snack foods to be manufactured in China. But because cheese was virtually unknown when the product was introduced in the 1990s and many Chinese who eat cheese get ill changes had to be made. After trying out 600 different flavors on 1,000 Chinese consumers PepsiCo, the maker of Cheetos, decided to release "Savory American Cream," which tastes like popcorn, and "Zesty Japanese Steak," which has a teriyaki flavor. Today each small package costs about 11 cents and has a picture of Chester Cheetah. The Chinese characters on the top translate to "Many Surprises," which is roughly pronounced as "chee-do" in Chinese.

Mr. Softee operates in China. According to the New York Times the Runnemede, New Jersey-based ice cream producer, known for its fleet of roaming trucks, had trouble translating Mr. Softee into Mandarin, so it went with Mr. Soft Heart---ruan xin xian sheng. Bimbo pasties are also widely available. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker website, April 22, 2010]

Chocolate and Godiva in China

The chocolate market in China is a relatively modest considering the country’s size . It was valued at $1.1 billion in 2011 and is set to have annual growth of 11 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to market researcher Mintel. Mars Inc.’s Dove chocolate is the biggest brand in China with a 43 percent share of the market in 2010, according to Mintel. Closely held Ferrero SpA, maker of Nutella chocolate spread, had an 8 percent share, followed by local Chinese brand Le Conte at 6 percent. Chinese shoppers are buying both for their own consumption and also for gift-giving, particularly around key holidays such as the Chinese New Year. [Source: Dermot Doherty, Bloomberg, June 12, 2012]

In June 2012, Bloomberg reported; “Godiva, a maker of luxury Belgian chocolate, plans to double its boutique network in China in 2012 as consumers there develop a taste for fine cocoa. The 86-year-old chocolatier is set to open about 15 shops in the country, bringing the total to about 30 in the three years since it expanded into China, Chief Executive Officer Jim Goldman said in an interview at the Chocovision conference in Davos, Switzerland. Godiva may have 100 Chinese stores in three to four years, he said.

Godiva, which Turkey’s Yildiz Holding AS bought for $850 million, will have sites in 10 Chinese cities by the end of 2012, according to Goldman. “China is less than 5 percent of our revenue, but it’s the fastest-growing piece of the puzzle,” Goldman said. “Over time, we’ll be in the hundreds of stores in China, but we also know that the Chinese use the Internet and the commercial aspect of the Internet is becoming more of a factor.”

Godiva is expanding to deliver online orders of chocolate and other confectionery products by van in Shanghai, where the company also operates a cafe that sells baked goods and wine in addition to chocolate, according to Goldman. Unlike Western countries where milk chocolate is more popular, Chinese consumers are opting for dark chocolate, partly due to its healthier image, he said.

Godiva has sought to cater to local tastes, introducing dragon-themed chocolates for the current Chinese zodiac year and also its own twist on moon cakes traditionally given during the Mid-Autumn Festival. “Godiva has always been a premium brand and it’s something very appealing given Chinese sensibility about gift-giving and appearance,” said Marcia Mogelonsky, an analyst at Mintel in New York.

Godiva sells gourmet coffees, truffles and fancy chocolates in more than 70 countries. In China, a box containing a selection of chocolate goes for 1,350 yuan ($210), while a 24- piece box of truffles costs 660 yuan, according to the chocolatier’s Chinese Website. Godiva’s 2012 revenue is set to rise at a similar pace to the 15 percent achieved each of the past two years, Goldman said. “This year we’re on a good pace as well despite the challenges in the world,” he said. The company’s duty-free business is “particularly dynamic.” Godiva gets about half of its revenue in North America, with the U.S. its biggest market. Japan is its second-largest.

Godiva’s boutique expansion in China will help it stay ahead of competition even as more western chocolate companies start to move into the market, he said. Most makers of mass chocolate are selling through grocery outlets, he said.”You don’t see a lot of boutiques,” he said. “We’re starting to see some of the more well-known European brands with one or two stores. We’re leading the way and just need to stay ahead.”

Chinese Xiaochi (Snacks)

According to expatsinchina.com: “Chinese xiaochi is an important part of the culture and cuisine, often reflecting the customs, religion, history and even geography of each unique province. Yet many foreigners do not understand what exactly xiaochi is.Although the English translation is "snack", xiaochi is so much more than that. Chinese xiaochi can be anything and everything, ranging from simple lamb kebabs or fried biscuits to heaping helpings of noodle and vegetable soup and everything in between. [Source: expatsinchina.com /~]

“Many of the xiaochi dishes still keep the names of their origins and so it is always interesting to discover the story behind the delicacy you're eating. While most provinces and major cities have their own unique selection of xiaochi, popular favorites from western Chinese cities such as Chengdu and provinces, like Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia are making names for themselves in big cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong. Still every city and province maintains their culinary history through xiaochi and the very act of eating these "snacks" is something of a cultural experience. /~\

“You're not a real Chinese until you can chew down on xiaochi so next time you're feeling the start of those pangs of hunger, just take a look around the street. No doubt you'll see plenty of stands and small shops that are all too willing to satisfy your cravings. The only problem you may have is deciding what to sample first! /~\

Beijing Xiaochi

According to expatsinchina.com: Snacks of Beijing can fall into three varieties: Han, Hui and imperial snacks, which are generally prepared by steaming, deep frying, frying in shallow oil, and instant boiling. Some people regard snacks of Beijing as "living fossils". Now snack restaurants can be found all over Beijing, such as Longfusi and Huguosi snack counters. Quick boiled Tripe Man, Chatang Li and Wonton Hou. [Source: expatsinchina.com /~]

Typical Beijing snacks include Douzhi (mung bean milk), Jiaoquan (crisply fried ring of dough), Aiwowo (steamed cone-shaped cake made of glutinous rice or millet with sweet filling), Chatang (paste or custard made of millet or sorghum flour), Ludagun (pastry made of steamed glutinous millet flour or soy bean flour mixed with sugar), sweet baked cakes, pea flour cakes, walnut cakes, small corn buns, eight-treasure rice, and fried cakes made of glutinous rice flour. /~\

Zhimaqiu (Sesame Balls) are fried rice balls stuffed with a sweet filling, usually red bean paste or lotus paste and covered in sesame seeds. This is popular northeastern Chinese snack and still very popular in Beijing. Best served warm. Wandouhuang (Pea Flour Cake), prepared with white peas, is a typical snack in spring. Pea flour cakes, kidney bean cakes and small corn buns were well-known imperial snacks in ancient China. /~\

Aiwowo (Steamed Cone-shaped Cake) are steamed cone-shaped cakes made of glutinous rice or millet with sweet filling. They first appeared in the Yuan Dynasty, and were well received by the imperial families in the Ming Dynasty. Now it is one of Beijing's snacks loved by local people. Douzhi (Mung bean Milk) has a long history in Beijing. As early as in the Liao (907-1125) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, mung bean milk was very popular. Local people of Beijing love to drink mung bean milk, because it is rich in protein, vitamin C and rough fiber and helps drive away summer heat, invigorate the function of the spleen and whet the appetite. /~\

Youtiao (Sweetened Fried Bread Twists) is eaten by Beijing people treat in the morning. It is often served with warm doujiang (soy milk). Though it is harder to find youtiao and doujiang these days there are still many restaurants and small shops that offer it in the early morning. Ludagun (Pastry Made of Soy Bean Flour) is a popular snack in Beijing. It is an ancient snack mainly made of soybean flour mixed with sugar. /~\

Chengdu Xiaochi

According to expatsinchina.com: “Chengdu snacks enjoy a high reputation both at home and abroad with their unique colors, aromas, shapes and tastes. First. Chengdu snacks have a long history. For instance, "Lai Tangyuan" (stuffed balls made of glutinous rice flour served in soup) has a history of over 100 years. Second, Chengdu snacks are carefully prepared with meticulously selected materials. Third, Chengdu boasts a wide variety of snacks. Fourth, Chengdu snacks are varied in taste. People who have not been to Chengdu will think all dishes and snacks served in Chengdu are spicy. As a matter of fact, many Chengdu snacks are aromatic, sweet, tender and tasty. Fifth, there are many ways to eat Chengdu snacks. [Source: expatsinchina.com /~]

Guo Tangyuan enjoys equal popularity with Lai Tangyuan in Chengdu. The Guo Tangyuan Restaurant was founded in the 1940s. Prepared with high-quality glutinous rice flour, Guo Tangyuan has a wide variety of stuffing, such as black sesame seeds and sweetened bean paste. Lai Tangyuan are balls made of glutinous rice flour served in soup. In 1894 a person whose name was Lai Yuanxin sold balls made of glutinous rice flour along the street. His balls featured thin skin, delicious stuffing, a sweet taste and a good smell. Later he ran a store named "Lai Tangyuan." Balls served by this store have been well received by the Chengdu people. /~\

Couple Lung Slice (fuqi feipian) is a famous Sichuan dish. Legend has it that in the 1930s, Guo Chaohua and his wife ran a restaurant, serving a delicious dish called Lung Slice, which was well received by customers. Hence the name Couple Lung Slice. The dish is beautiful in color, soft and tender, aromatic and spicy. /~\

Longchaoshou (dumpling soup) is known as wonton soup in north China. In the 1940s Zhang Guangwu, owner of the "Strong Scented Teahouse," founded a wonton restaurant in cooperation with others, named "Longchaoshou." The dumplings offered by the restaurant feature thin skin, tender stuffing and delicious soup. Dandan noodles, originally sold by peddlers along the street. are delicious and spicy. /~\

Guangzhou Xiaochi

According to expatsinchina.com: “With a time-honored history, Guangzhou snacks have remained in great demand for a long time. The snacks mainly fall into seven parts: fried refreshments, various kinds of porridge, noodles made of rice or wheat flour, cakes made of wheat or glutinous rice flour, sweet food, Zongzi (a pyramid-shaped dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves) and snacks made with grains other than wheat and rice. They are served all the year round. In winter when eating various kinds of refreshments, people would take a bowl of porridge. Snack stalls can be found all over Guangzhou, especially in the five food streets, i.e., Xihao Ermalu, Guangda Lu, Qingping Lu, Guigang and Hongde Lu. [Source: expatsinchina.com /~]

Fried River Snails have thin shells and thick meat. Frying river snails and purple perilla will produce a sweet and spicy taste, which is loved by both southerners and northerners of China, as well as compatriots from Hong Kong and Macao and foreigners. Shahe Rice Noodles can be boiled, steamed or fried, with sour, sweet, bitter, spicy and salty tastes. Rice noodles originated from Shahe Town in Guangzhou, hence the name Shahe rice noodles. Shahe Restaurant enjoys the highest reputation of serving best rice noodles./~\

Chashao Bun (Steamed Meat-stuffed Bun) is an old-brand famous snack of Guangdong. Soft, sweet and fragrant, they are served by all large and small restaurants in Guangdong all the year round. Tingzai Porridge is also popular. In the past men of letters and tourists loved to take a boat tour in the western suburbs of Guangzhou when night tell in summer. Small boats carrying porridge served scholars and tourists taking a boat tour. Later many local restaurants began to prepare such porridge too. Now people can taste Tingzai porridge everywhere in Guangzhou. even in high-elms hotels. /~\

The Lingnan region (Guangdong and Guangxi) has extensively absorbed the technique of making cakes from north China, including imperial snacks of the six ancient capitals as well as Western cakes. Lianrong moon cakes and Guangzhou-style moon cakes are one of the best choices for the Chinese people when celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. Sweet or salty, Guangzhou-style moon cakes are golden yellow in color, beautifully shaped and soft, with thin skin and clear and delicate patterns. They are easy to carry about. The stuffing includes lotus seeds, apricot kernels, mung beans, sesame seeds, mushrooms, dried shrimps.

Thin Skin dumpling with fresh shrimp stuffing were created by a small restaurant in Wucun Village, Wufeng Township in Henan District, Guangzhou. After many years improvement, such dumplings have become very famous and have remained in great demand for a long time. Fresh Shrimp and Rice Wrapped by Lotus Leaf is prepared in Taiping Town, Dongguan is famous. It features a light, refreshing and delicious taste and a faint scent of lotus leaves. Now almost all restaurants in Guangzhou serve such snack. Steamed Changfen (Rice Flour Rolls) are as white as snow, as thin as paper, aromatic, smooth and tasty. Fried Turnip Cake Turnip cakes are fried in light oil are loved by Guangzhou people. Wanzai turnip cakes can be eaten without being fried. /~\

Jiangsu Xiaochi

According to expatsinchina.com: “Also known as Jinling or Qinhuai snacks, Jiangsu snacks have a long history and a wide variety, enjoying a high reputation in the country. When Nanjing served as the capital in the Six Dynasties, local snacks were very popular. They have meat or vegetable stuffing, sweet or salty. They are so delicious that people will never get bored of eating them. The most famous ones are the eight kinds of Qinhuai incomparable snacks. [Source: expatsinchina.com /~]

Guantang Xiangsuli (Aromatic and Crisp Pear with Gravy Filling) is an innovative pear-shaped snack with the Chinese and Western characteristics. Aromatic, sweet, glutinous and crisp, it has refreshing gravy inside. Wangxingji meat-stuffed bun is steamed in the small bamboo basket. White in color and beautiful in shape, the meat-stuffed buns served by Wangxingji Restaurant are especially delicious, salty with slightly sweet./~\

Wonton with whitebait stuffing is a famous dish of Jiangsu Province. With pressed fish meat wrappers, white and smooth, such wonton is stuffed with whitebait and white shrimps. Meticulously prepared, the women has tender stuffing and a delicious taste. So it is well received by customers, especially the elderly and the young. /~\

Pumpkin cakes attract customers with their golden color and a sweet glutinous and soft taste. Changzhou Caigenxiang Restaurant offers the most delicious pumpkin cakes. Golden coin cakes are a popular local snack of Changzhou. They are fried in oil and have a a golden yellow color and the shape of a coin. Hence the name. With crisp skin, the golden coin cake is soft, with delicious stuffing. Dipping in various kinds of sauce will make the cake more delicious. /~\

Longpao Steamed Bun Filled with Juicy Crab Meat have a a history of over 130 years. They are filled with juicy crab meat abd used to be presented to the emperor as tributes. In September every year, such steamed dumplings attract customers from all over the country. Jiangnan Eight-treasure Vegetable Porridge, also known as salted porridge, is derived from Laba porridge (made with cereals, beans, nuts and dried fruit, eaten on the eighth day of the 12th lunar month). With red beans and green vegetables, such porridge is delicious with a faint scent, suitable for both the elderly and the young all the year round. /~\

Tianjin Xiaochi

According to expatsinchina.com: “Tianjin snacks, mainly made of flour, are deep fried, baked, foods in soup and glutinous desserts. Goubuli steamed stuffed buns, Guifaxiang fried dough twists and Erduoyan fried glutinous rice cakes are three superb snacks of Tianjin. One who pays a visit to Tianjin must taste Goubuli steamed stuffed buns. It is said that one who has not tasted Goubuli steamed stuffed buns in Tianjin cannot say that he has been to Tianjin. Made with half fermented flour and juicy filling, Goubuli steamed stuffed buns are soft, fragrant and delicious, in the shape of chrysanthemums. [Source: expatsinchina.com /~]

Erduoyan Fried Glutinous Rice Cake is one of the famous traditional food of Tianjin. They Erduoyan glutinous rice cakes were created by a small restaurant located by Erduoyan Lane, hence the name. With a history of over 80 years, such tried glutinous rice cakes are golden yellow in color, crisp, soft, sweet and tasty. Large dough twists are a traditional food of Tianjin, of which those produced by Guifaxiang Shiba Street are the most famous because they are prepared with well-selected materials and consummate skills. Crisp, aromatic and sweet, they will not become soft within a long period of time. /~\

Guobacai is a soup peculiar to Tianjin, featuring a refreshing, smooth and delicious taste. It is often eaten together with baked sesame seed-cakes or deep-fried twisted dough sticks. Tianjin Gaogan is a popular sweet. The making of Tianjin Gaogan originated in the early Ming Dynasty, with a time-honored history. Gaogan produced by Yangcun Village is the most famous. Sweet, snow-white and refreshing, Gaogan was once sent to the Panama International Fair together with Maotai liquor, and won a bronze medal. "Kernel Zhang" means “Imperial Snack.” With a history of more than 160 years, "Kernel Zhang" is famous for its peanuts. and kernels of walnuts, melon seeds, apricots and pine nuts with sweet, sour and spicy taste. /~\

Xinjiang Xiaochi

According to expatsinchina.com: “Xinjiang snacks have also gained popularity around China. One would be hard-pressed to not find small stands selling lamb kebabs (yangrouchuanr) on the streets of Beijing or any major city in China for that matter. [Source: expatsinchina.com /~]

Yangrouchuanr (Lamb Kebabs) are by far the most famous of Xinjiang snacks, They are made of chunks of fatty and lean lamb meat skewered on a wooden stick and roasted over a spit and then seasoned with salt, MSG and lots of red pepper. Kaobaozi (Baked dumplings) are large dumplings stuffed with tender lamb strips and sweet onions and roasted or lightly fried on a grill. This dish is usually found in northern Xinjiang in areas such as Turpan and Hami. /~\

Nang Flat bread comes in various sizes. Along with lamb and mutton, nang it is the staple of Xinjiang food. Nang has a disk-like shape with rolled edges and a flattened center. The bread often has designs etched out in the dough before the bread is baked in an oven. Fantang is a simple tomato soup with bits of pasta, lamb and various vegetables. It's no wonder the direct translation of this dish is literally "the meal soup". One bowl is sure to fill anyone up! /~\

Yunnan Xiaochi

According to expatsinchina.com: “Crossing-the-Bridge Rice Noodles Rice noodles, a typical Yunnan snack, are prepared with high-quality rice. Thin, long and soft, rice noodles are especially delicious. Crossing-the-Bridge Rice Noodles are meticulously prepared with broth, sliced meat and seasonings. Crossing-the-Bridge Rice Noodles originated from Mengzi County in south Yunnan, with a history of more than 100 years. Legend has it that a scholar studied hard everyday, preparing for the imperial examination. His wife often delivered rice noodles to his study. Finally the scholar passed the examination and became No.l Scholar. As his wife must cross a bridge when delivering food to him, the scholar named it "Crossing the-Bridge Rice Noodles", which later became very popular. [Source: expatsinchina.com /~] Earthen Pot Fish With breathtaking scenery is associated with with Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan. Peculiar to the places where the Bai people live, it is refreshing and nutritious. Steam-Pot Chicken is prepared in a unique way, featuring tender chicken and delicious and nutritious soup. Whole Sheep Banquet is prepared with different ingredients and methods as compared with those of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia./~\

Xuanwei Ham is a famous food of Xuanwei City in Qujing Prefecture, Yunnan Province. It enjoys a high reputation both at home and abroad. In 1915 Xuanwei ham won a gold medal at the Panama International Fair. In the shape of pipa (a plucked string instrument with a fretted fingerboard), Xuanwei ham has thin skin, thick meat, a bright color and a strong aroma. Thanks to its high quality, Xuanwei ham is also known as "Yunnan ham." /~\

Long Street Banquet originated from Yuanyang County, Honghe Prefecture, Yunnan Province. In February every year, local people would celebrate "Angmatu" in accordance with the customs of the Ham people. During the festival more than 300 families in the village would present banquet of 300-odd tables. Villagers and tourists from other places may sit down to taste Ham food while enjoying songs and dances by the Ham people, men and women, elderly and young. This local custom is called Long Street Banquet, or Long Dragon Banquet.

Yunnan-Style Soft Pounded Rice Cakes

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Traditional methods of preparing food may be vanishing, but a workshop in Kunming has kept alive the old art of making erkuai (soft pounded rice). As a type of rice cake particular to Yunnan, erkuai literally translates into "ear piece", a reference to one of its common shapes. Its peculiar name makes it one of the "18 oddities in Yunnan". Erkuai has a history of 400 years. Although common in the entire province, it is said that the best erkuai is available in Guandu district of Yunnan's capital of Kunming, where it is said to have originated. As the ancient center of Yunnan's capital, Guandu is famous for its traditional way of making erkuai. [Source:Wang Wanli, China Daily, September 12, 2011]

Wang Wanli wrote in the China Daily, “Eating erkuai during Spring Festival is a tradition in Yunnan, and in the old days even the poorest families followed it. People carried newly harvested rice in cloth bags and waited outside the mill sometimes for two days. Generally, a family made erkuai from 20 to 50 kg of rice every year. "Making erkuai was like a ceremony before Spring Festival when I was a kid," says Pan Yunquan, a 67-year-old resident of Luofeng village in Guandu. "It used to be made only once a year." Since Luofeng has the credit of making the most delicious erkuai in Guandu, the delicacy available there is the best of the best.

Rice is the only ingredient used in erkuai. Rice of the best quality is washed twice and then soaked in cold spring water for about an hour. After that, it is steamed twice. "Washing and steaming the rice twice makes erkuai whiter and softer," Pan says. There are no strict rules for making erkuai, he says. It depends on experience. "Take steaming for example. Once water starts dripping from the hay-made pot cover, it is time to take the steamed rice out."

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In days past, people would not make erkuai at home but at a public mill shared by residents from two or more villages, and hence the annual "ceremony". At the mill in Luofeng village Steamed rice is quickly put into a stone mortar and later pounded with a wooden pestle. But this is a special mortar and pestle, called mudui in Chinese in which the mortar is fixed into a hole dug in the ground so that its mouth is even with the floor level. The pestle is fixed to a huge horizontal wooden lever and needs four to six people to operate.

After the pounding, rice becomes soft and gummy line plasticine after pounding, and is shaped on a wooden board. Erkuai is generally shaped like a mini pillow after the soft rice is kneaded to push the air bubbles out, and gives off a fragrant, appetizing aroma. Erkuai is loved by people in Yunnan not only for its simplicity, but also because it can be cooked in several ways. It can be cut into slices and served stir-fried with vegetables and a fiery mixture of dried red chilies, Sichuan pepper and salt.

It is popular as street food, too, grilled, barbecued and rolled around fried breadsticks with sweet or savory condiments added, resembling a Mexican burrito. The sweet types contain a sweet brown sauce and peanuts, while the savory types are mixed with preserved bean curd, bean sprouts and various other toppings. This method is particularly popular among Yunnan people and savored as a quick and delicious snack. Erkuai can be also made into dessert with sweet fermented-rice and eggs. Many families use finely shredded erkuai and cook it like noodles. Erkuai keeps fresh soaked in clean water for up two months, and it is said that fishermen used it to repair small cracks in their boats. The traditional method of making erkuai in Guandu was listed as an intangible cultural relic of Kunming in 2005.

Mooncakes

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Moon cakes are pies with sweet fillings. According to custom, one is supposed to eat the cakes under the full moon on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Often extravagantly expensive, they are about the size of a hockey puck and just as dense. Fillings range from red bean with salted egg yolks to cheesecake to Peking duck. [Source: Benjamin Haas, Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2011]

The the Mid-Autumn Festival (Chinese Moon Festival) is celebrated during the harvest moon (the first full moon of autumn) on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month in late September or early October. Also known as the "Reunion Festival" or “Mid-Autumn Festival, it is a time when families and friends get together and eat "Moon Cakes" as a symbol of reunion. Kids have traditionally loved moon cakes. Moon cakes vary somewhat from region to region but usually have sweet been paste in the middle.

The moon cakes given as presents were traditionally filled with red bean paste or sweet lotus seed paste and sold for a few pennies. These days you can get ones in fancy boxed sets with a layer of shark fin and edible gold images of Buddha imprinted on them for $25,000. Recipients are often corrupt officials.

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Moon cakes played a pivotal role in the rebellion that ousted the Mongol Yuan Dynasty and launched the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. The Mongols cracked down ruthlessly on the Chinese but failed to suppress the Chinese custom of exchanging little round full moon cakes during the coming of the full moon. Like fortune cookies, the cakes carried paper messages. The clever rebels used the innocent-looking cakes to give instructions to the Chinese population to rise up and massacre the Mongols at the time of the full moon in August 1368.

A typical 6.3-ounce mooncake has about 800 calories. By contrast, a McDonald's hot fudge sundae, which weighs the same, has only 330 calories. "They're too sweet and not healthy," one Chinese woman told the Los Angeles Times. "I just bring them with me when I meet friends and give mooncakes to anyone who wants one." [Source: Benjamin Haas, Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2011]

In 2010, health officials in Taiwan warned the public to lay off the mooncakes and instead indulge in fruits and vegetables. But mooncake-haters notwithstanding, nutritionists and dietitians in Beijing doubt that health warnings will dissuade people from eating them. "Mooncakes have been a traditional part of Chinese food and celebration for centuries, there's no way we could tell people not to eat them," said Liu Huali, chairman of the Beijing Nutrition Consultant Assn. "Even though they're high in sugar, high in oil and high in calories, people won't listen to our advice." Liu said that even he would be eating a few bites of mooncake this year.

Buying Mooncakes as Mid-Autumn Festival Gifts

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, With the Mid-Autumn Festival fast approaching, Yang Haijuan dropped by the posh China World Hotel to pick up three deluxe sets of mooncakes, gifts for her friends. She'd chosen the eight-cake "Autumn Elegance" boxes, covered in golden fabric and embroidered flowers, at a cost of $63. Each came in a thick, sparkly, gold and red shopping bag with rope-like handles. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2012]

"I'm buying more this year and spending more than last year," said Yang, a human resources specialist. But she'll get even more boxes of pastries than she'll give: Yang expects to receive up to 20 boxes, from colleagues, friends and family members as gifts for the festival, which is Sunday.

In 2012, China is expected to produce 280,000 tons of mooncakes, with sales reaching $2.53 billion, up 6 percent from a year ago, Zhu Nianlin, president of the China Assn. of Bakery & Confectionery Industry, told China's Global Times newspaper. But high-end mooncake purveyors report much stronger growth.

Many Beijing residents grouse that mooncake mania adds to traffic in the week before the Mid-Autumn Festival, as people scurry around town buying cakes, delivering them and picking up other cakes with vouchers they've been given by their employers or friends. City officials said the capital's traffic congestion index on Tuesday hit 9.8 out of 10, the worst reading of the year.

Mooncake Becomes the Fruitcake of China


Benjamin Haas wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Zou Jin has one response to the gifts of mooncakes that piled up on her desk before the mid-autumn festival: “You shouldn't have.” The 30 cakes that Zou had received from her employer and various clients weeks ago sat unopened and neglected under her desk as the 31-year-old marketing manager tried to pawn them off on anyone who would take them. [Source: Benjamin Haas, Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2011]

Back in the era of scarcity, they were a rare calorie-rich treat to fill the chronically hungry belly. Nowadays, the mooncake has become the Christmas fruitcake of China, passed around and regifted ad infinitum.

In an effort to make mooncakes more palatable, Chinese and foreign companies have started incorporating unconventional flavors. The most popular in recent years have been Haagen-Dazs' ice cream mooncakes. "We'll eat these ourselves, they're ice cream and delicious," said Zhang Yujing, 30, a homemaker who was picking up a box that her husband had been given. "But if these were traditional-style mooncakes, I'd give them away as a gift."

Other Western companies have also gotten in on the mooncake business. Starbucks' Chinese stores have been selling them since 2005. This year, six cakes cost about $60 and come in a three-tiered box with a separate drawer for each flavor, almost like a jewelry or tackle box. "Most people just use these as a status symbol, to show they have money," said a Haagen-Dazs employee who gave only her last name, Li.

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The packaging and brand are often more important than the taste or quality of the product. One elaborate package offered by a winery featured a heavy wooden box where each mooncake was individually encased in a round metal container. Because of the low cost to produce mooncakes and their high selling price, counterfeit mooncakes have cropped up. Last month, police in Guangzhou confiscated 8,000 boxes of mooncakes that had been made to look as if they were from a famous local restaurant.

The high prices commanded by the most prestigious mooncakes have crept even higher in the last year as food prices in China rose across the board. But the big buyers, mostly large state-owned companies, seem unfazed by the price increase. "Because of inflation, mooncake prices have increased a lot from last year, but we're actually selling more this year," said Sparking Lee, general manager at a Beijing mooncake wholesaler.

Lee's company has sold more than a million mooncakes this year, with the bestseller being Haagen-Dazs. Although he declined to name specific companies, Lee said his largest customers were state-owned telecommunications and technology companies. Gao G.Z., an executive at a state-owned tobacco company, represents the extravagance of the mooncake economy: A week before the mid-autumn festival, he went to pick up four boxes of Haagen-Dazs mooncakes worth about $140. "My company gave me all these mooncake coupons, I didn't pay for any of this myself," Gao said, gesturing toward his bounty of gifts. "I'd never pay for mooncakes!"

Mooncake Tax Sparks Uproar in China

20111101-Wikicommons Dried Chinese foodstuff.jpg
dried foodstuffs
A decision by Beijing authorities to impose tax on mooncakes has sparked an outcry AFP reported. Beginning in 2011, the cakes will be considered a non-cash benefit and subject to income tax, the Global Times said, citing the Beijing Local Taxation Bureau. [Source: AFP, August 28, 2011]

A poll conducted by the microblogging service Weibo found that 96 percent of users opposed the tax on the sweetmeat, and many Chinese said they would prefer not to receive them at all."Since when are mooncakes taxed? I'd rather not receive such benefits if I have to pay such tax," IT worker Wang Youhua told the China Daily newspaper.

The tax authorities gave no reason for the move, but the price of mooncakes has soared in recent years as retailers have come up with increasingly elaborate ways to make the traditional gifts more desirable. While the average box costs around 100 yuan ($16), a box containing a gold-plated knife can retail for well over 10 times as much.

Employees who receive the cakes as gifts from their company are now required to pay income tax based on their value. This had the side effect of bumping some people into a higher tax bracket. One man at a state-owned petroleum company had to pay an extra $47 in taxes for the month of September because of the gift of mooncakes, the New China News Agency reported. "As the Western saying goes, nothing is certain but death and taxes. I feel very uncomfortable about the 'mooncake tax,'" the news agency quoted the petroleum company worker as saying. [Source: Benjamin Haas, Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2011]

Mooncakes Target of Chinese Anti-Corruption Drive

In September 2013, AFP reported: “ China has banned officials from buying mooncakes with public funds during an upcoming holiday, as the Communist leadership promotes its crackdown on corruption. The cakes themselves are relatively cheap, around 100 yuan ($16) for eight. But in a culture where personal connections are often the key to getting business done, Chinese holidays - National Day follows soon afterwards - are often a chance for networking and sometimes for corruption. [Source: AFP, September 5, 2013 >>>]

“The boxes in which mooncakes come have been used as a vehicle for payoffs. Sometimes they have even been made of gold and contain silver chopsticks, according to previous Chinese media reports. "Sending mooncakes and other items as gifts purchased with public funds during the festivals is strictly prohibited," the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a statement. Officials are also banned from spending public funds on holidays, gym visits or entertainment activities, the anti-graft body said, and government agencies must not hand out excessive bonuses or benefits. >>>

“The measures are in response to recent remarks by President Xi Jinping that officials' behaviour during major festivals and holidays was "a significant test of their working style", the statement said. Authorities will "punish every violation once it is detected, seriously hold those responsible or in charge accountable, and publicise typical cases to the public", it added. "(We) must resolutely put an end to the malpractices during the two holidays." >>>

Mooncake Disposal Problem

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Neighborhood recycler Lu Shoujun knows mooncake season means one thing: more trash. About 10 days from now, Lu will start to get calls from his regular customers, clamoring for him to collect mooncake boxes along with their newspapers, cardboard and other usual items. "Some people get so many that we have to go upstairs to their apartments and haul them down," he said. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2012]

Mooncake-related refuse is just a small part of China’s total refuge problem. But much like Christmas wrapping in the West, it's attracting attention from activists seeking to raise public awareness, encourage greener business practices and nudge bureaucrats to enforce environmental regulations already on the books. In 2012, China's Zero Waste Alliance has launched a campaign to get users of Sina Weibo, the nation's Twitter-like microblog service, to take pictures of excessively packaged mooncakes. The group plans to collect the photos and compile a list of the most egregious offenders. "We need to get customers to change their habits," said Tian Qian, urban solid waste coordinator for Friends of Nature, which is part of the campaign. "Manufacturers are important too, as they are directly involved, and we believe some companies are violating the national law."

Mooncake sellers spent more than $300 million on packaging in 2010, including 200,000 tons of paper and 40,000 tons of tin, according to the China General Chamber of Commerce. Several years ago, China adopted regulations on mooncake boxes. Among the guidelines: Only three layers of wrapping are allowed, and cakes must occupy 40 percent of the box volume. The cost of the package should be no more than 25 percent of the wholesale cost of the cakes. But Tian noted that items like the plastic trays under the cakes, as well as the bags the boxes are placed in, are not counted as layers by government inspectors.

Lu, the neighborhood recycler, said increasingly elaborate packaging means more work and a lower profit for him. He and his workers often must use knives to separate the boxes' paper from plastic and other materials: leather, wood, fabric, even ceramic tile. "Labor costs are going up, the price we get for the materials is going down," said the 40-year-old Lu, who cut his staff from four to two men this year and now washes cars part-time. "Sometimes, we just have to throw the stuff out." Excess packaging not only contributes to solid waste but also adds to fuel use for transportation and, thus, air pollution.

High-End Mooncake Makers Go Eco-Friendly

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Yan Ning, director of food and beverage for the China World Hotel, has seen demand for his highbrow mooncakes grow rapidly in the last 10 years. This year, his hotel expects to rake in nearly $2.4 million selling 100,000 boxes in 13 styles and 33 flavors, up from 20,000 boxes a decade ago. Corporate clients account for half of his sales. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2012]

Each year, he works with a designer to come up with fresh look. Designs for 2012 include a $93 jewelry-box-like item with drawers, and a $74 red leather case with gold handle. "You have to make something elegant, something distinctive," he said. "You can't make the same design each year." Yan said he tries to stay away from metal and wood out of environmental concern, and this year the hotel is again offering a special "charity" box; the hotel will make a contribution to a wetland park for each purchase of that design.

Selina Lee, who oversees mooncakes for the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Beijing clubhouse and says sales have risen about 40 percent annually for the last five years, said she tries to keep the packaging to the minimum, using paper and environmentally friendly glue. But changing customer habits can be hard. In 2010, she said, the club introduced a box design that included a handle, so that buyers would not need a shopping bag to carry the mooncakes. "They didn't like it," she said. "We had to go back to bags. I don't think the market is looking at environmental concerns. But we are trying to make it eco-friendly."

Image Sources: Wiki Commons, Beijen.com, Julie Chao

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2015


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