Moon Cake Surprise
The mid-autumn festival is approaching and all over Vietnam moon cake stalls are springing up.
We found this one when we stopped for petrol at the weekend.
Darling Man was surprised to see a stall so early. The actual date of the mid autumn festival this year is September 30. But moon cakes, it seems, are a bit like Christmas decorations — appearing earlier every year.
“Oh yum,” I said. “Moon cakes.”
And then I remembered my first encounter with moon cakes, back in 2007.
Some students had given me some beautiful moon cakes — and Vietnamese moon cakes can be fabulously ornate.
My mum and her friend were due to visit, so I kept the cakes, in their lovely decorative box, to share with them.
The night mum and her friend arrived, I took them up to the rooftop terrace of the guesthouse I was staying at, turned on all the fairy lights and began cutting up the moon cakes in the dim light.
It was going to be a lovely exotic introduction to Vietnam’s charms.
Like synchronised swimmers, we all lifted a piece of moon cake to our lips and bit into it. And all at the same time we made a noise of disgust.
There was something majorly wrong with our cake.
I ejected my mouthful of half-chewed cake and examined it. I could see seeds and maybe nuts but that didn’t explain that weird horrible taste. I put a tiny piece back in my mouth to see if it was an “off” taste that made the cake so offensive.
I held up the moon cake packet to the light and read the expiry date. The cake should have been OK.
Then I tried to read the ingredients. I spotted the words “heo” and “ga”, the Vietnamese words for pork and chicken.
And then I announced the verdict. The cakes have meat in them.
(People have since asked me why I didn’t read the list of ingredients before I tried the cake. But who on earth would think to check whether cake has meat in it???)
We didn’t finish the moon cakes that night and we certainly didn’t buy any more. The following year when the mid-autumn festival came around again I was not keen to try another moon cake.
By this time I had made some Vietnamese friends (and met Darling Man). And my Vietnamese friends urged me to give moon cakes a second try. Moon cakes with salted eggs were highly recommended. You could even splash out and buy moon cakes with two salted eggs!
Um… blerch. Salted egg in a cake is almost as bad as meat.
Finally, my Vietnamese friends told me there were moon cakes available that had no meat and no salted egg.
I found one and I tried it and, let me tell you, the “vegetarian” moon cakes are gooooooood.
In the matter of moon cakes, I’m firmly in the Western-taste camp.
My first moon cake of 2012 was one of my favourite types of Vietnamese moon cake – a white one filled with lotus seed paste.
Darling Man opted for a roast chicken with ham version. With one salted egg.
For me, the white moon cake was definitely the winner.
Now I’m on the lookout for the no-egg coconut paste moon cake I remember.
Vietnam’s moon cakes and the mid-autumn festival is a relic of Chinese rule. Yet Vietnam’s moon cakes are very different from the hipster moon cakes that are all the rage in our old home of Singapore. (Have a look at some of the fabulous moon cake varieties available now in Singapore – choc-chip lavender mousse moon cake anyone?)
The Chinese call their white moon cakes “snow skin” moon cakes. It’s a lovely poetic name.
The Vietnamese name of the white moon cakes, banh deo, is more practical. Banh means cake and deo is a word that’s hard to translate … Darling Man says it describes the flexible stickiness of uncooked dough. Online translators say deo means plastic. Another friend says deo means sticky.
They taste so much better than their translated name. But, still, I think everyone should try a meat surprise moon cake at least once in their life.
Would you try one?
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265 days ago