YEARS ago, chocolate and ice cream mooncakes were the trendsetters in the annual mooncake gathering for Mid-Autumn Festival. And it was the fancy brands that dominated the list of innovative offerings.
But food is a cyclical business. The fusion style mooncakes blossomed, but soon people went back for the traditional mooncakes, the flavor of which hasn’t changed since childhood and is an emotional tie to memorable moments during the festival that celebrates reunion.
In Shanghai, locals always choose the classic, time-honored brands such as Guangming Village, where the longest lines are for the pan-fried pork mooncakes.
Their consistent flavor and quality makes it an easy choice. But even for the traditional brands, a spark of inspiration is needed in a competitive market.
The tradition-meets-creativity concept has proven to be quite lucrative in the past few years.
In 2016, Xing Hua Lou, a famous Shanghai time-honored brand, launched a special qingtuan (sweet green glutinous rice ball) for the Qingming Festival with a filling of salted egg yolk and dried meat floss instead of the traditional recipes such as red bean paste.
The sweet and savory combo sounded so delicious and different that people were standing in lines for a minimum of six hours just to buy a box of these qingtuan.
This spring, Xing Hua Lou brought back the blockbuster qingtuan.
But the lines were only about an hour long, as most people who have tasted it stopped seeking the novelty and the recipe has been copied by about 10 other brands — mostly other time-honored shops just like Xing Hua Lou — who wanted to have a piece of the action.
In the mooncake business, some shops achieved Internet fame last year with hits such as the crayfish mooncake from Wang Bao He hotel, the yanduxian (meat soup-flavored) mooncake from Sunya Cantonese Restaurant and the vegan shitake mushroom mooncake from Yufo Temple.
The competition is more intense now, because the basic idea of making mooncakes, which is stuffing sweet or savory filling inside puffed or chewy crust, can be applied to almost any desirable ingredient.
If crayfish mooncake was the star in 2016, bullfrog mooncake is definitely the winner in 2017.
Bullfrog is loved by many for its tender and delicious meat. Anything bullfrog has the potential to become a hit, like bullfrog hotpot or bullfrog noodle.
The Shanghai First Food Chain has created a Chinese sauerkraut and bullfrog mooncake this fall that gained lots of attention in the early mooncake battle.
Each mooncake contains a whole bullfrog leg that’s deboned, and the Chinese sauerkraut adds a little bit of sourness. It’s slightly dry.
The shop assistants explain that young people today like to order bullfrog dishes, so they’ve decided to incorporate the idea into the traditional mooncake.
The bullfrog mooncakes are sold out all the time, but some people don’t like the idea too much because it’s making the mooncakes just like steamed buns.
The price for the bullfrog mooncake is 15 yuan (US$2.3) each — much more expensive than regular mooncakes.
The brand also has two more intriguing new creations: abalone-pork mooncake (10 yuan) with a small whole abalone inside each cake and the bamboo shoot pork mooncake (8 yuan).
Shanghai First Food Chain
Address: 720 Nanjing Rd E.
Pork mooncake with prawn and cheese
Last year, Sunya Cantonese Restaurant thought outside the box to create the yanduxian mooncake inspired by the traditional Shanghai dish of the same name, which is a rich pork soup made with Jinhua ham (Chinese bacon) and bamboo shoots.
It was in big demand as people loved the idea of having a soup dumpling-style mooncake.
This year, Sunya has come up with a fusion mooncake that adds prawn and cheese in the traditional pork mooncake. To be honest, it’s hard to say no to prawn and cheese and it’s a hit again. A limited number of 2,000 mooncakes are made and sold every day, so get in early to grab a box. Each person can buy no more than two boxes day.
It’s sold at 10 yuan per piece.
In the meantime, Sunya is also selling yanduxian mooncake (36 yuan for a box of six) alongside plain pork mooncake (4.5 yuan each) and pork and crab mooncake (8 yuan each).
Sunya Cantonese Restaurant
Address: 719 Nanjing Rd E.
Coconut egg custard mooncake
The egg custard mooncake from brands such as The Peninsula Hong Kong and Maxim’s has been very popular in recent years. The soft, sweet and slightly salty custard filling of this more delicate Cantonese style mooncake is less heavy than traditional kinds.
Because of the cost of ingredients, these egg custard mooncakes are not cheap.
This Mid-Autumn Festival, Xing Hua Lou has made their version of egg custard mooncake with liquid coconut cream in the middle.
It’s sweet with hint of saltiness from the egg yolk.
It’s advertised as an upmarket product made with butter from New Zealand and coconut cream from Thailand. The small mooncakes are 50 grams each and a box of eight retails for 238 yuan, which is about 30 yuan per piece.
Xing Hua Lou
Address: 343 Fuzhou Rd
Duck tart mooncake
Peking duck is a staple in Chinese cuisine, and Quan Ju De is one of the best-known roast duck restaurants.
For several years, Quan Ju De has been selling a duck tart mooncake that has duck meat filling and a crust similar to pineapple tart. The meat used is the lean breast meat.
A gift box of nine mooncakes retails for 89 yuan on the official Quan Ju De Tmall shop (quanjudebj.tmall.com).