Out of all the Chinese and Vietnamese foods I have tried, the one I like the very least has to be moon cakes. Fertilized duck and chicken eggs are a close second. If I ever have the misfortune of ingesting dog meat or three penis liquor (guess which three?), those would be strong contenders, too.
Moon cakes top the list because unlike unborn ducklings and Fido’s nether regions, you can’t get away from moon cakes. In the weeks leading up to the Mid-Autumn Festival (September 30 this year), Chinese people feel obligated to give moon cakes, and recipients feel obligated to return the “favor.” It’s like the Anglo-American fruitcake exchange tradition of yore, except that some people actually claim to like moon cakes.
If the dense, lardy shell and salty egg yolks embedded in the middle of the cake weren’t off-putting enough, you have a variety of over-sweetened fillings to deal with. Granted, not all of them are so bad. Lotus seed paste is kind of tasty. I’d rather have azuki beans in soup or stuffed into imagawayaki, but if someone is giving me the don’t-be-an-ungrateful-child-now stare I wouldn’t mind it too much in a moon cake. Anything with meat or winter melon in it, though, is not going near my mouth.
This is from a local bakery in the San Gabriel Valley. Assuming the label is following American food labeling laws, that means that there is more Yellow #5 in this product than winter melon. Yum!
As far as I’m concerned, moon cakes just hockey pucks made of lard and sugar that you give to distant relatives and friends of family to show how fat your wallet is this year. Mooncakes are not cheap–I’ve seen boxes of four retail for $40, or even $80, in normal ethnic supermarkets. If you give someone a box of expensive moon cakes before they give you any, they will feel obligated to buy moon cakes of similar value. If you give it to them after they give you a cheaper box, they’ll feel stingy, as if they owe you something.
By the time the holiday actually arrives, most people probably have at least a dozen moon cakes sitting around the house. What do you even do with that many moon cakes? Do you eat them all? Donate them to unwitting non-Chinese charities? Bury them underground like nuclear waste?
Everyone: What’s your least favorite homeland food?
Moon cake lovers: why?