The sudden apparition of mooncake stands across the streets of Hanoi creates a striking contrast to September’s still-sweltering heat. Their appearance anticipates the changing of seasons. Taking place this year on October 2nd, Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month and traditionally coincides with the first full moon following the season’s final harvest. Mooncakes are a traditional food, passed down for generations, and they are the cornerstone of family celebrations during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Mooncakes originated in China and spread to Vietnam hundreds of years ago. Traditional flavors include sweet green bean paste, taro, lotus, salted eggs, or candied meats. Although mostly enjoyed by older generations, sharing mooncakes remains an important Mid-Autumn family tradition throughout the country.
Young Vietnamese people are no longer enticed by the flavors their parents and grandparents grew up enjoying. The influence of social media and an influx in Vietnam of bakeries and multicultural cuisines dictates the preferences of younger generations. Artfully arranged photos of beautiful, colorful mooncakes are what sell now. In order to keep up with this new trend, traditional mooncake bakeries have introduced increasing numbers of fun, modern flavors onto their menus.
THE VUU CAKES
Price for 4 mooncakes: 305k VND
The Vuu Cakes, a well-known bakery in Hanoi, has topped many lists featuring the most stunning, locally-made mooncakes. They make and sell the mooncakes from their house, which emphasizes their homemade quality. However, this did make coordinating a pick-up time difficult (and included waiting for the vendor to arrive half an hour after the agreed upon pick-up time).
These mooncakes are edible pieces of art. Featuring both traditional and creative flavors, their outer layer is a chewy, almost gummy texture. Though it gives the mooncake an “undercooked” consistency, it also creates a pretty, matte appearance.
Quan Âm Trà (tea)
This flavor looked very sophisticated with a speck of gold foil decorating the crust. But for taste, this mooncake was focused more on appearance than flavor. We had a hard time tasting much of anything at all.
Sô cô la kitkat (chocolate kitkat)
Our sweet tooths had high hopes for this mooncake. It looked beautiful when cut in half and though there was a hint of delicious kitkat, more chocolate was needed to fulfill our craving.
Though the crust was a stunning color, there was nothing tiramisu-like about this cake. Instead, we were met with the strong smell, and overwhelming taste, of instant coffee.
Trà xanh hoa nhài (matcha jasmine)
This mooncake was a surprise favorite. Featuring a rice flour crust and paired with a matcha jasmine filling, we thought the flavor and texture was similar to a Japanese mochi.
Price for 4 mooncakes: 230k VND
Samlovecake sells year-round out of a storefront that mainly provides, as the name suggests, cakes. For a bakery that creates such colorful and fanciful desserts, we were surprised that Samlovecake crafts a mooncake that is more traditional in appearance.
These mooncakes feature a firm, baked, almost cookie-like crust. On some of the mooncakes, the crust appeared to be overcooked, and most of them had areas of uneven or thick crust. The top crust features a lovely, sugar-wash shine and is molded with traditional shapes and patterns.
This was our favorite flavor from Samlovecake. The filling reminded us of peach pie. It was very sweet, but had the most “real” filling flavor.
Việt quất (blueberry)
Our least preferred flavor of the group, it was hard to compare this flavor to a blueberry.
Dâu phomai (strawberry cheese)
We found the strawberry mooncake to be better than its blueberry counterpart, but it still did not taste like “real” strawberry flavoring.
Chanh leo (passion fruit)
Upon trying this mooncake, we thought there must have been a mistake with the labeling. This flavor tasted very similar to a traditional green bean mooncake. The filling was smooth and sweet, with none of the tartness we expected from a passion fruit-flavored filling.
Overall, both Samlovecake and The Vuu Cakes create stunning and creative mooncakes that could promote this traditional dessert with both younger generations, and also non-Vietnamese consumers eager to learn more about the country’s culinary traditions. Still, more thought will need to be put into the actual fillings in order to live up to what the originality of the new flavors promise to deliver.