As the days in September tick by and the moon grows, Hong Kong gets restless. But it's not just werewolves that are looking forward to the full moon, it's the bakers. Because September's full moon means one thing - mooncakes.
Bakeries and pastry shops across Hong Kong have already been stocking up on these dense, pricy treats for weeks in the lead-up to the Mid-Autumn Festival. And over the years these traditional holiday snacks have developed more variations and flavours than the moon has phases.
At Young Post, we took it upon ourselves to try out 13 different kinds of mooncakes from a range of popular brands to see whether newer is better when it comes to mooncake flavours.
We were also joined by Rocco and Zachary Perez Jones, ages eight and 10 of Discovery College and South Island school respectively, to hear their opinions on these new flavours.
Keeping with tradition
Cantonese-style mooncakes traditionally have a flaky, brown pastry shell. One traditional filling is lotus seed paste with a salted duck egg yolk, while others might include ham or nuts. The problem with these traditional varieties is that they can be very heavy and dense, so it can be hard to eat more than just a small bite. The outside pastry can also become greasy.
For our traditional flavours, we went to popular mooncake company Kee Wah to try a Golden Lotus Seed Paste and a Chinese Ham Mooncake with Yolk. We also got another egg yolk and lotus paste mooncake from Wah Lai Yuen, but this one also had coconut milk added to it.
Our testers agreed that the Kee Wah lotus paste mooncake was quite tasty, even though it was very dense and heavy. The pastry wasn't too greasy, and the paste inside was smooth.
"I always prefer the traditional flavours," said web-editor Heidi Yeung, who named this cake as one of her favourites. It was also the first time sub-editor Lauren James had ever tried a mooncake. "It tastes like peanut butter," she said.
The Wah Lai Yuen cake, although also made with lotus paste, had a grainier texture. Some were put off by the egg yolk in the centre. And while it claimed to contain coconut milk, no one could really taste it thanks to the overpowering lotus paste.
The Chinese ham mooncake was everyone's least favourite. No one could manage a whole bite, and Rocco and Zachary spat it out immediately. It was by far the greasiest mooncake of the bunch, soaking through a paper towel.
A new moon
Everyone was eager to try the more modern and sweeter cakes. Starbucks' Salted Caramel Mochi & Chocolate and Espresso & Almond mooncakes catered to more Western tastes, while the Green Tea Mochi & Red Bean and Hojicha Tea & Osmanthus were more classic.
Unfortunately the names were nicer than the cakes. A weird jelly consistency and bitter taste confirmed Starbucks is better at mochas than mooncakes. "It's so bitter," exclaimed Rocco. "I hate coffee."
Starbucks' only mooncake to get a thumbs-up was the Hojicha Tea & Osmanthus one, which Heidi enjoyed.
Orchid Padaria Bakery also has a wide variety of sweet speciality flavours. We tried the Mango and Almond, Chocolate and Almond, and Rose and Almond. And Wah Lai Yuen also sells sweeter varieties alongside its traditional cakes. We sampled the Sesame, Matcha and Egg Custard.
The results were still hit-and-miss. Rocco and Zachary spat out Orchid Padaria's Mango and Rose flavours, but really enjoyed the Chocolate and Almond. "It tastes like Rocky Road, without the marshmallows," said Zachary.
But the overall favourites came from Wah Lai Yuen. The Sesame and Matcha were both hits, but nearly everyone voted the Egg Custard as their favourite. Its texture was less dense and heavy than most of the other mooncakes, and the crust was nice and flaky without being greasy.
"It's got a good balance between salty, sweet and eggy," said Zachary.
If it's something traditional you're looking for, our testers all agreed that Kee Wah's Golden Lotus Paste is the way to go. It has a smooth, nutty flavour and isn't too greasy. But stay away from the Chinese Ham.
For something sweeter, be sure to get Wah Lai Yuen's Egg Custard mooncakes. While the other varieties in the sampler pack are tasty, you might have to fight your friends and family over the egg ones.
Also, give Orchid Padaria's Chocolate and Almond cakes a try, but avoid the Mango and Almond, which got one of the worst scores from our tasters.
As for Starbucks, we'd recommend just getting a latte.