Mooncake Tasting in China: It’s OK to Judge a Mooncake by its Cover

By Mark Wiens 43 Comments
Chinese Mooncake
Chinese Mooncake

Today marks the start of the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival (the actual full moon is on the 12th of September, 2011).

This important Chinese holiday falls annually sometime in September or October when the moon is at its biggest and brightest. Traditional baked Chinese pastries, known as mooncakes, all of a sudden become the buzz and are sold everywhere.

Taking part in various festivals and sampling traditional treats is one of the greatest things about traveling. Just a few months ago I had had the privilege of devouring all forms of pork at Thailand’s Songkran festival, and now I was about to indulge in symbolic Chinese mooncakes!

Fancy Mooncake Box
Fancy Mooncake Box

This year for the moon festival I just happen to be in China for the first time in my life.

Being half Chinese American, I have sampled a few mooncakes throughout my growing up years, but I always just thought they were random pastries, not having to do with anything special.

This time, I was able to learn a little about the mooncakes themselves and taste a few different kinds.

Mooncake China
Very Fancy Mooncake Box

What is a Chinese Mooncake?

A mooncake is a traditional Chinese pasty cake that is given as a gift and eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as the Moon Festival).

The interesting part is that the cakes are not really that special, but the elaborate packaging is what elevates their prestige. The fancier the package, the more expensive, and more highly impressive it is.

Mooncakes are offered as gifts to friends, relatives, and especially business co-workers.

If you give a very fancy packaged mooncake to a person you hold with high regards, you’ll most likely gain some extra respect and consideration.

In the end, it’s not really about the mooncake itself, but about the fancy wrappers and box (almost like a suitcase) that it comes in.

298 CNY Box of Mooncakes
298 CNY Box of Mooncakes

This fancy golden box of mooncakes was going for 298 CNY ($46.66) – just for a few simply made cakes!

The Cheap Mooncakes
The Cheap Mooncakes

For the cheapos, there were little individually plastic wrapped mooncakes that were priced at 4 – 6 CNY ($0.63 – $0.94).

Drinking Tea along with a Mooncake
Drinking Tea along with a Mooncake

Mooncakes are dense, rich and almost sticky, like if you were to eat a spoon full of peanut butter. It sort of gave my mouth that weird adhesive feeling like sampling sago palm starch in Brunei for the first time.

To combat the dry stickiness, it’s necessary to drink a few cups of hot Chinese tea along with nibbles of the cake. It also helps in the digestion process.

Egg Yolk Mooncake
Egg Yolk Mooncake

Where Should a Mooncake be Eaten?

Traditionally, moonckes should be eaten outdoors, under a tree while watching the full moon and sipping on tea.

The one above is filled with a salted duck egg, one of the most popular fillings. The egg represents the bright full moon.

Sweet Bean Mooncake
Sweet Bean Mooncake

This cake filled with sweet beans is reminiscent of a kind of fig newton bar. The filling was not overly sweet, but had a thick pasty texture.

5 Kernel Mooncake
5 Kernel Mooncake

My favorite mooncake of the bunch was this 5 kernel nut filled cake. It retained its texture from the nuts but was still as dense and solid as the other cakes.

Chinese Mooncake
Bizarre Pork and Nut Mooncake

Sometimes pork of duck are added to a mooncake to make it richer and more flavorful. This mooncake was loaded with sweet paste and had a bizarre porky fragrance to it. It wasn’t bad, but not what I would call my favorite.

Do Chinese Like to Eat Mooncakes?

Many Chinese don’t even really like mooncakes, and some avoid them due to their extremely high concentration of calories. For myself, I’m not a huge mooncake fan – they just a bit too dense and heavy for my taste. On the other hand, one or two bites with a hot cup of tea is something I could do once a year for the Mid-Autumn festival!

Have you ever eaten Chinese mooncake?



43 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Ron | fliptravels.com

    6 years ago

    during the mooncake season, i spend a lot of time in bazaars and malls where mooncake stalls are clustered. i hop from one kiosk to another for free taste… after an hour, i feel bloated! instant free dinner! (burp!)

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Yes, that’s a great idea, but after too much mooncake there is some serious bloatedness!

  • Diane

    6 years ago

    They seems just perfect and so delicious.Mark you always show me so interesting things.Thank you!

  • Samanta Lawrence

    6 years ago

    I like how delicate and beautiful these cakes are. They resemble a culinary work of art. Love to try one!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks Samanta!
      They really are nice looking cakes!

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    6 years ago

    That looks so good! It does sound like the perfect thing to eat with a cup of tea.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Yup, that cup of tea makes it go down smoothly!

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    6 years ago

    Ummm I LOVE mooncakes!!! Great post!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Great to hear that Andi! Hope you got to eat some this year!

  • Ciki

    6 years ago

    great shots.. you nailed it.. and now i will go eat my mooncakes too! LOL

  • Sophie

    6 years ago

    Interesting article and very good photos! Tea and moon cake sound quite nice on a chilly autumn evening. Think I would prefer the nut-filled ones.

  • Alex

    6 years ago

    I just moved to China to teach English in an elementary school. I lucked out to come in time for the Mooncake Festival! As one of two foreigners in my town (of four million), a newspaper thought that it would be a brilliant idea to run a story of us receiving flowers for Teachers’ Day and eating mooncakes. Free mooncakes and newspaper story to boot—what could be a more perfect Chinese experience?

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      That’s awesome Alex! Sounds like it was a great cultural experience after arriving in China – and the newspaper story about a foreigner eating a mooncake would be great!

  • Barbara – The Dropout Diaries

    6 years ago

    I was given some mooncakes my first year in Vietnam. They looked beautiful but I nearly threw up when I had a taste. The pork and salted egg versions are the most common in Vietnam! By the time my second mid-autumn festival came around I’d learned enough Vietnamese to ask for the “no-meat no-egg” variety!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Haha! If you aren’t expecting the egg and pork inside the cake, it can definitely be odd and a little surprising. I’m not too big on the yolk filled mooncakes either, but the mixd nuts are a lot better in my opinion!

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic

    6 years ago

    A few years ago we went to a festival in San Francisco’s Chinatown and tried a few different moon cakes. I think we ate the ones with the bean filling and were less than impressed. Perhaps if we ate them with tea and got the sweeter kind they would have been more palatable? I was expecting to really like them, so overall I was a little surprised by the end result.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Christy!
      Cool that you got to sample a few mooncakes in SF! Mooncakes a extremely different from a lot of Western fluffy and light desserts. I think the key is definitely to eat small pieces of mooncakes and wash them down with hot tea!

  • jenjenk

    6 years ago

    i’ve got to admit, the only reason I like mooncakes is because of how pretty they are. If i don’t have it with tea, i notice this filmy guck over my teeth!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Haha, gotta have a mooncake with tea, or it does kind of get stuck and a bit dry. Does your family traditionally eat mooncake every year?

  • Christina

    6 years ago

    I ate Chinese Mooncakes in Nanjing and I quite liked them. The one with the nuts you’re showing in one of your pictures looks yummy!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Great Christina! That nutty one was for sure my favorite!

  • meisa

    6 years ago

    yes, i have tasted mooncakes! ate them 1 month before the real day, which is tomorrow!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Great Meisa! Did you like it? What kind did you taste?

  • Lorna – the roamantics

    6 years ago

    i’d never even heard of chinese mooncakes! thanks for the cultural lesson mark- would love to try one (even just a bite as you say). the boxes are so ornate- really gorgeous. i giggled like crazy at your “for cheapos…” line. LOL

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      No problem Lorna!
      I like just a couple bites, and then I’m pretty much mooncaked out for the year. If I were to buy one myself I would definitely be a cheapo – because I think they all taste the same, despite their different packaging.

  • The Travel Chica

    6 years ago

    These look tasty. I would definitely try them.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hope you can find some Stephanie! Are you still in BA, you can probably get one in Chinatown!

  • inka

    6 years ago

    I can see what you mean by judging the mooncake by its cover. The packagibng is beautiful and as Cathy said, would make a very nice gift. The sweet fillings, especially with kernels, appeal to my sweet tooth too.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks Inka!
      They strive to make the packaging as nice as possible. I like the kernel one the best too!

  • 2summers

    6 years ago

    Love these pics. I recently tried my first mooncake, given to me by a Chinese expat friend in Joburg. It was an egg yolk mooncake — delicious! I want more.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Awesome, glad that you enjoyed it! Do they have a Chinatown in Joburg?

  • Cathy Sweeney

    6 years ago

    The packaging is beautiful — would make a perfect gift. I’d love to try a mooncake. It really looks delicious. I wonder if I can get them in Chinatown, San Francisco. I’m going to find out!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Cathy, yah, the package is really the important part of the mooncake.
      I’m sure you can get some mooncakes in SF. A number of people have already mentioned trying them in Chinatown there. Let me know if you can find any, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it!

  • Ayngelina

    6 years ago

    Hmm I like the addition of pork to it but egg no so much.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Yah, I’m not big on the egg either…I don’t like eating straight yolk!

  • Steve

    6 years ago

    We’ve got an 8″ red bean mooncake here that’s 1700 calories. I think it’s intended for 1 person…

    Personally I prefer the cheaper pork and salted egg savory mooncakes

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Wow Steve, that’s gigantic and calorie filled! Did you eat the whole thing?

  • Annette | Bucket List Journey

    6 years ago

    I stood in line for 45 minutes to get a mooncake in Chinatown in San Francisco. It was tasty.
    Love the photos of the boxes, they are so neat!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Wow, 45 minutes! How many mooncakes did you get and which kind was your favorite?