These are a sweet specialty found throughout Viet Nam in Mid-Autumn. If a cake is perfectly made, one can finish the entire treat without feeling bloated. If not, then even one slice can seem too much. The recipe determines how delicious, rich, or soft a cake is and how long it will last without spoiling.
Moon cakes are made with a variety of tastes, old and new. According to the manager of the Long Xuong Bakery in District 5, Ho Chi Minh city, Chinese people living around Cho Lon made the first moon cakes. A traditional Chinese moon cake should taste sweet and fatty and should smell of therapeutic herbs. Some experienced bakers make the filling of these cakes with Chinese dried sausage, roast lean pork, and fish fins. They mix the ingredients with herbs and spices, especially dried ginger, in a special formula that offers both salty and sweet tastes.
Moon cakes made in the northern Viet Nam are also sweet but less rich than those from the south. Their filling often smell of lemin leaves and mandarin-orange and grapefruit peels. Deo (soft) moon cakes make in Ha Noi are specially delicious. The fragrance of grapefruit flowers emerges as soon as you bite into coating of sticky-rice paste.
Some moon cake producers in Ho Chi Minh city – such as Kinh Do, Dong Khanh, Ai Hue, Hy Lam Mon – also add mixtures of coconut and milk, or hazelnuts. A few local bakers add whisky to give their cakes’ filling a special taste. Thanh Long in Ho Chi Minh city even makes diet moon cakes that are cholesterol-free and taste less sweet.
Other cakes bear influences from beyond Viet Nam. The Equatorial Hotel makes Malaysian-style cakes from red beans and sesame oil, or lotus seeds and sweet-smelling leaves. They cover the cakes with a coating of chocolate. Hong Kong’s Saint Honore Cakes also come in many flavours. Including soybeans with orange flavor, white lotus, black beans and lotus seeds with tea.
Most moon cakes are either round or square. However, some are shaped like pigs or fish.
Moon cakes can be eaten right after they are made, but they definitely taste better when eaten at right time. Traditionally, a moon cake is served three day after baking so that the oil in the filling can seep into thr coating, making it soft and creating a delicious, rich taste. Newly baked cakes tend to be dry and hard. Today, however, according to Luu Lap Chanh, owner of Hy Lam Mon Bakery in Ho Chi Minh city, modern technology and new recipes allow the oil to seep into the coating in just twelve hours, although this makes the cakes less tasty than the traditional three-day method.
Moon cakes are often packed with sugar and calories. According to the Kinh Do Confectionery Company in Ho Chi Minh city, a 200-gram cake filled with green beans contains as many as 700 kilocalories, whereas an adult needs about 2.000 kilocalories a day for basic health. A moon cake has all the ingredients for putting in weight: starch, fat, and sugar. Sugar accounts for between 40% and 60% of a cake’s weight. Thus, an average 200-gram cake may cantain more than 100 grams of sugar. Cakes that are high in sugar, roast port, fatty meat, and oil fillings provide even more calories.
Moon cakes are easy to keep. During normal weather conditions they can fifteen days. Some vacuum-packed cakes, those packed in airtight boxes with humidity or oxygen absorbers, and thosr treated with ultraviolet rays may last longer, but they still should be eaten within one month. Consumers should be careful about cakes that are kept in normal conditions yet seem to last several months; the producer may have used an anti-mold agent, which is believed to be harmful to health.