23 October 2016
There are only a handful of bakeries that still insist on producing mooncakes by hand in the traditional way. Photo: Bloomberg
There are only a handful of bakeries that still insist on producing mooncakes by hand in the traditional way. Photo: Bloomberg

Mooncake is losing its essence

With the Mid-Autumn Festival approaching, mooncakes — the must-have pastry for the celebration of one of the most important yearly events in the Chinese culture — are seen all over the city.

Thanks to a legacy from Wing Wah Bakery, the bombardment of mooncake advertisements begins soon after rice dumplings sales take center stage during the Dragon Boat Festival which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Lunar Calendar.

The Mid-Autumn Festival has been a great opportunity for mooncake makers to reap fat profits as it is customary for businessmen and families to present the pastry to their clients or relatives as presents.

Sales of mooncakes in mainland China are estimated at up to 20 billion Chinese yuan, while the Hong Kong market is worth around HK$1 billion.

The pastry can be produced at a very low cost due to mass production as it is now largely done by machines. There are only few bakeries left, like the Tai Tung Bakery from Yuen Long, that still insist on producing mooncakes by hand.

Mooncakes have nowadays become a tacky and guilty offering. People send the pastry to each other just for the sake of completing a festival ritual.

Both the sender and the receiver, in many cases, understand that it is a meaningless game which often sees the gifts being thrown away unconsumed.

I recently noticed that I still had a mooncakes box at home that was left over from last year. Cutting a cake in half, I found that it looked and smelled exactly the same as any of the ones sold this year.

That made me wonder about the preservative that must have gone into the cake to prevent it from getting spoilt.

As a matter of fact, pun choi — a traditional Chinese dish where a large pot is filled with layers of food — and rice dumplings are also enduring the fate of becoming a massively-produced cheap commercial commodity to be sold at a price.

By adding unnecessary ingredients like abalone or perigord truffle to pun choi and rice dumplings, businessmen hope to carve up more profits through the sales of these so-called innovations.

But is that the right way?

Should we not instead focus on getting back to the basics and preserve the sanctity of the original food?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 13.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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