If you are in Hong Kong during the Mid-Autumn Festival, it will be impossible not to notice moon cakes. They are believed to have originated from Yuan dynasty (1206-1368) revolutionaries, who are said to have used the pastries to pass secret messages between each other.
Traditionally, moon cakes are infused with embedded egg yolks and lotus seed – not exactly a light snack. But this is Hong Kong where nothing is spared a modern makeover. The city serves up an exciting jumble of creative moon cakes in a variety of flavours during the Mid-Autumn Festival (there are even low-sugar options), taking your taste buds on a dizzying tour of snowskin, iced, ice cream, mung bean paste, cheese, chocolate, foie gras, sesame tofu, sweet potato, silky smooth milk tea, black truffle, mango, strawberry and caviar. Enjoy the ride!
You might even notice moon cakes that are shaped to look like they are “mooning” you. The date of Mid-Autumn Festival is often used as a euphemism for “rear end” by Cantonese speakers, providing the inspiration for these, ahem, cheeky versions.
The father of snowy moon cakes
It is believed that moon cakes were used by 14th century revolutionaries for communicating secret messages. Centuries later, revolution was also on the mind of Taipan Bread & Cakes founder Kwok Hung Kwan when he began experimenting with this festival food.
By the 1980s, veteran baker Kwok was aware of the growing trend of healthy eating in Hong Kong and saw the traditional moon cakes, which are rich and sweet, lose favour with the city’s changing tastes. Determined to bring moon cakes into the modern age, Kwok hit upon a recipe for a whole new style of this confectionary in 1989 – a lighter version of the pastry, which appealed to modern tastes and stamped his name in history as the ‘father of snowy moon cakes’.
When you see just how many snowy moon cakes are sold in Hong Kong each Mid-Autumn Festival, it would be difficult to believe that there could ever have been any resistance to these delicious treats. However, when Kwok first presented them to the market they were scoffed at by purists. He persisted with his snowy versions and, nowadays, millions of Hong Kongers are rather glad he did.
When shopping for moon cakes remember to visit food shops accredited by the Quality Tourism Services (QTS) scheme for extra confidence.