Extraordinary flavours, delectable choices

WHETHER you believe that mooncakes were used to pass secret messages among the Han Chinese during the rule of the Mongols or that it was a gift to Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty in his victory against the Xiongnu, mooncakes have long been a part of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebration.

With such an age-old and rich history, surely time allows for alterations to the methods of making, design and recipe of this beloved delicacy along the way. While most Malaysians are familiar with the traditional brown pastry exterior and not too long ago, the modern snowskin, filled with the classic lotus seed and egg yolk or standard red bean paste – there are loads more odd and bizarre, yet wonderful variations, to have graced the market and satisfied uncommon tastebuds.

Following are some extraordinary mooncakes to have found its way onto retail shelves and some of our homes. While there is no question that individuals are disparate, each with their own preferences and penchants, it is amazing to discover how poles apart this deviation (of taste) can be. The peculiar and strangest of mooncake combinations described below are testament to our distinct and individual perception to tastes.

Chinese chess mooncakes

While growing up, parents always told their children to "stop playing with your food". However, a bakery in Nanjing, China decided to turn the tables around by creating a set of mini mooncakes that replicate the red and black pieces of "Xiangqi" (Chinese chess). The bakery also provided the board, made with a sheet of paper, and sold these as an "edible set" for enjoyment of both the mind and the tummy.

Dumpling mooncakes

There are some who are averse to the sweetness of mooncakes yet love their sugary treats when the festive occasion approaches. While the toothsome mooncakes are the norm, a savoury mooncake has made its entry. Those in favour of savoury to sweet should keep an eye out for the green-coloured mooncake, stuffed with leek and scrambled egg, similar to a common Chinese dumpling filling.

Hopping mad tastes

A Shanghainese food chain introduced a truly interesting mooncake flavour this year, one that truly requires an "acquired taste", comprising pickled Chinese cabbage and bullfrog. Those brave enough to try the "strange blend" noted its salty and spicy tastes. Foodies also reported that it was the first time they had to pick out bones from a mooncake, so take caution while indulging. Despite its peculiar flavour, the food chain, according to a China news portal, had been selling over 3,000 mooncakes daily.

Celebrating health

The heightened awareness and education on healthy living among the millennials has changed consumer habits. For some, the high calorie count is reason enough not to give in to the temptation! Hence, Hong Kong vegan raw-food chef Shima Shimizu came up with healthier versions of the mooncake – free from white sugar, gluten and chemicals. The exotic flavours include complementing flavours, such as raw cocoa and mango or matcha strawberry. According to the chef, her mooncakes are packed with good fats, have low glycaemic index and are free of empty calories
and cholesterol.

Sticky business

Similar to our local snowskin mooncakes, the Vietnamese "bánh dêo" comes as a sticky rice mooncake and has a crust made from roasted glutinous rice flour, pomelo blossom water or vanilla and simple syrup, complemented with a sweet-tasting filling. It is sometimes packed in boxes together with the usual baked mooncakes, to offer the consumer something different.

Prawn mooncakes

Suzhou-style mooncakes are famous for its layers of flaky dough. It also comes with options of sweet or savoury filling. Last year, a stuffing made of crawfish fried with garlic shoots and abalone mushrooms was introduced to the Chinese market. The concoction made huge waves among consumers, so much so, it even gained a following and soon saw scalpers seizing the opportunity and doubling the price
per box.

Peranakan twist

Across the Causeway, a Chinese restaurant decided to complement a local beloved fruit to give mooncakes a Peranakan twist. The creation presented a rich durian filling encased in purplish-blue snow skin, naturally coloured using the Blue Pea flower, as in many Nyonya kuih favourites. These mooncakes remains ever popular and is still in high demand, year after year.

Molten core

The molten trend doesn't seem to be drying up. From salted egg yolk to cheese, consumers simply don't seem to goodness, which is why molten lave mooncakes are not surprise. Staying true to tradition style (to some point), the salted mixed with custrad to create the runny texture and yellow hue. Modern flavours take inspiration from molten lava chocolate cakes, using the milkygoodness of melted chocolate contained within a snowskin mooncake.

Fluffy goodness

Sure to thrill the young ones – marshmallow mooncakes were a creation of a hotel in neighbouring Singapore. Encased within a snowskin exterior, the filling has two layers to it. According to the recepie, the outer layer presented a lychee-flavoured mix with bits of the sweet fruit while the "yolk" was substituted with green-coloured lime-flavoured marshmallow. A refreshingly sweet and juicy treat.

Real gold "mooncakes"

A few years ago, the market was thrown into an "identity theft" crisis with the emergence of pure gold bars created in the form of mooncake. These inedible mooncakes appeared at a department store in Beijing, China, boasting over 30 different designs, varying in weight and price. The cheapest "mooncake gold bar" – reported a whooping 2,000 yuan (roughly RM 1,296)