The annual Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (Tết Trung Thu) came and went last Tuesday without much fanfare from the Gastronomy camp. There were a few celebrations taking place around town, but The Astronomer and I were too beat after work and running to partake in the fun. Are we getting old? I’m afraid so.
One aspect of the holiday that The Astronomer and I whole-heartedly embraced was the consumption of Moon Cakes (Bánh Trung Thu):
Most Moon Cakes are baked and contain one or more whole salted egg yolks in its center to symbolize the full moon. The saltiness of the yolk balances well with the sweet filling in the Moon Cakes.
Traditional Moon Cakes have an imprint on top consisting of the Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony” as well as the name of the bakery and filling in the Moon Cake. Imprints of a moon, a woman on the moon, flowers, vines, or a rabbit may surround the characters for additional decoration.
Moon Cakes are expensive and considered a delicacy. Production is labor-intensive and few people make them at home. Most Moon Cakes are bought at Asian markets and bakeries.
The Astronomer bought his Moon Cake from our favorite bakery in District 10 for 30,000 VND. The cake was imprinted with coy fish and filled with various roasted meats including pork and ham, lotus seed paste, two salted egg yolks, and sesame seeds. I bought a Moon Cake from a vegetarian restaurant in District 3 for 15,000 VND. The cake was imprinted with a lotus blossom and contained cashews, sesame seeds, whole lotus seeds, lotus seed paste, and mock roasted meats. Moon Cakes come in a variety of shapes and fillings, but the types we purchased were labeled thap cam, which roughly translates to “a little bit of everything.”
I ate Moon Cakes on a few occasions growing up, but never realized they contained any meat because they were so sweet. However, now that my palate has matured a bit, I can definitely discern between the meaty elements and sweet ones and can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into each cake.
The day after Tết Trung Thu, all the bakeries in town began offering cakes for either half-off or “buy one get one free.” Between The Astronomer and I, we stocked up on four extra cakes to prolong the deliciousness of the holiday.