Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday on the Chinese and Vietnamese calendars second in significance only to Lunar New Year. The holiday — a harvest festival which is celebrated in many other Asian cultures as well — is particularly known for mooncakes, which are gifted to friends, family and colleagues. And yes, there's a full moon tonight.
Tradtionally, mooncakes are round or square pastries with a dense filling of lotus seed paste and a salted duck egg that represents the moon, though a wide variety of fillings and regional styles have evolved over the centuries. These days, you can find savory, low fat, low sugar, vegetarian and even vegan options. A more recent trend? Snowy mooncakes, featuring a colorful mochi-like exterior, which are kept in freezer cases and often feature fillings such as the exotic and notorious durian.
This time of year in the San Gabriel Valley, elaborate gift boxes and tins of mooncakes are stacked high on supermarket and specialty store tables, while the many area bakeries produce baking sheet after baking sheet.
At Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park, chef-owner Diep Tran has a special menu for the festival featuring, among other items, Japanese sweet potato mooncakes. They're available all month and can be pre-ordered.
The SGV is filled with Chinese and Vietnamese bakeries, all of which are great places to pick up individual of even mini mooncakes. Here are some highlights:
With five Los Angeles County locations, including three outside the SGV, Taiwanese chain 85° C Bakery Café has a special through today. If you buy five mini mooncakes, the sixth is free. Boxes are also available. Cantonese and Taiwanese-styles with red bean, date, lotus seed or green bean fillings.
I Fu Tang Bakery also has boxes and full-sized individual mooncakes, but the draw here is the wide variety of minis featuring fillings beyond the common: coffee, pomelo, plum, green tea, passion fruit, pinenuts with sea salt.
Kee Wah Bakery, a Hong Kong-based powerhouse, produces individual and tins or boxes of full-sized or mini Cantonese-style mooncakes and has locations in Monterey Park, San Gabriel and Rowland Heights.
Oh My Pan Bakery and Tea is another standout for a small, but quality, selection of Cantonese and Taiwanese versions prepared by a trained pastry chef.
For a range of boxes and tins, including some high end examples and snowys, go to Monterey Park and Wing Hop Fung or TS Emporium. Wing Hop Fung also has a location in Chinatown and TS Emporium has one in Rowland Heights.
If you live outside the San Gabriel Valley, call your local outlet to check on mooncake availability. We’re also tipped that leftover mooncakes will be heavily discounted at some places beginning Tuesday. Again, call ahead.