Aug 22 2011
There’s nothing like a good holiday to shake you out of your rainy season blues and luckily for the Saigonese we get just that. Mid-Autumn Festival, Tet Trung Thu, the celebration of the fall equinox, occurs on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, or somewhere between September and early October on the Western calendar. Preparation for the celebration starts early and every year, about a month before the Mid-Autumn Festival begins, colourful shops pop up selling the holiday’s traditional gift: the mooncake, a small pastry with many different fillings. Here’s a quick guide to mooncakes in Saigon.
Traditionally given as gifts, the pastry mooncake is Mid-Autumn Festival’s most important food item. The cake is heavy with symbolism, with the round cake representing the sky, and the more popular, in Saigon, square-shaped cakes symbolising the Earth. The top of the cake is most commonly the home to an imprint that represents the imperial Nguyen family.
The filling of the cake varies; most common in the city is the sweet mixture of lotus seed and ground beans but fillings of chicken, pork, and mung bean are also popular. Usually the filling also contains an egg, which symbolises the moon — thus the name.
They are sometimes referred to as Asia’s fruitcake, a food that is given as a gift but largely disliked by the recipients, but I don’t think they’re that bad, although I did eat an old one that had been in the refrigerator for awhile — not so good.
If you’re on the hunt for someone selling mooncakes, look no further than the side of the road where start-up shops, with their bright red colours and hanging lanterns, stand out among their surroundings. If you’re looking for an individual mooncake, options range from the small classic 30,000 VND lotus seed version to the larger 100,000 VND savoury meat cakes. If you want to give that special someone a bigger gift they have just the thing: gift sets, which are bright, fancy boxes opening to reveal multiple mooncakes inside. A set of four will usually start around 200,000 VND.
Mooncakes are only made this time of year, making them a seasonal delicacy to their fans. So, if you’re cruising by a cake shop on your motorbike, take this chance to join in the festivities and give mooncakes a try — you may find a new treat.
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