Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Vietnamese Mooncake Mystery

For my birthday, my friend, Whitney, sent me a Vietnamese mooncake from Hawaii, along with three green tea bags. I knew, from her emails, it was a sweet cake with a salted hard boiled yolk of a duck's egg in the center, and it's to be eaten along side a cup of green tea.

Subject: Vietnamese Moon Cake wrapped, whole, and cut in half | Date: 01/28/2018 |Photographers: Whitney Regan | These pictures were taken by a friend of the author of this blog. |
The cake came in a plastic tray wrapped in orange labeled cellophane, and was about the size of a cinnamon roll.  I wanted to know more about the pastry.
  • What's it made of?
  • Why is a cake, which looks like a flower, called a "mooncake?"
  • Did I need to heat it up?  
The problem was, the label was written in vietnamese.  Thus, I had to play detective.

Being a computer geek, I began my investigation on good ol' Wikipedia.  I know, the site has a bit of a bad reputation among seekers of truth.  Yet, if a savvy sleuth pays attention to the cited sources, it can be a superb resource.

After a little digging, I found that each region of Asia offers its own version of the mooncake.  Vietnam offers two kinds of mooncake: "Bánh nướng" (baked mooncake) and "Bánh dẻo" (sticky rice mooncake).

I had the Bánh nướng consisting of wheat flour, cooking oil, and simple syrup boiled with malt. The deserts can apparently be filled with a variety of ingredients including; salted egg yolk, dried sausage, bean paste, sugared pig fat, lotus seeds, or watermelon seeds; before being brushed with egg wash and baked.

But, where'd they pickup their peculiar moniker?  Like I said, mine had been molded to mimic an open blossom.  I had some more digging to do.  My informant, Google, indicated that a certain popular periodical might offer a clue.
Time Magazine explained, the cakes are traditionally consumed during the Mid-Autumn festival, as describe in the Liji (Book of Rites).  The festival involves sacrifices being made to the moon on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.  Since the celebration is based on the lunar cycle, the traditional cakes are known as mooncakes.

With most of the mystery solved, I still needed serving directions.  Luckily, Brandon Lau posted a tutorial on YouTube.  While Brandon's delivery was a bit more tongue-in-cheek than I'd hoped for, he did eat it straight from the wrapper with a fork.  So, I ate mine straight from the wrapper with a fork.

I had my fork, I had my cup of hot green tea, and I had a rip roaring game of Olympic Curling on TV.  I was ready.  Cutting into the cake, I found an INCREDIBLY dense pale yellow cake.  One bite told me the confection was as sweet as it was dense.  Even though I'd found no mention of honey as an ingredient, it tasted like rich honey to me.

After five or six bites, I reached the boiled "salted" duck yolk.  The yolk offered a welcome second texture and a delicate umami flavor, but with no hint of saltiness to speak of.

I don't feel I can rate this product, since I don't know a brand name.  I can say, if I come across one I'd eat it again.  Given the richness of the traditional delicacy however, I'll eat it with three or four other people.

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