In mid-September, I start to think of the myriad forms of mooncakes. The dense, diminutive baked treats, most commonly found with egg-washed surfaces and elaborate designs (traditionally from the wooden molds they’re pressed into) come out to herald the mid-autumn festival observed most keenly in various countries in Asia, primarily in mainland China and Taiwan. They boast flavors like red bean paste, lotus seed, and purple taro. Based on the lunar calendar (and marking the 15th day of the eighth month), the holiday celebrates the circles and ties of kinship or friendship with an emphasis on gratitude, wholeness, fullness, unity—through cakes full and (usually) round like the moon.
This year, the mid-autumn festival falls on Sept. 21. Go, therefore, questing: Your mooncakes already await. Some stores and bakeries have been offering the sweet treats all month long. Here are your top places to get them.
For years, this family-owned bakery has earned a following for handmade, molded mooncakes sold from the small storefront operation in Far North Dallas. Available while supplies last, they come in flavors like coconut with durian, green tea, and taro. They’re the OG.
Elegant, stylish boxes (lacquer-brown with gold brushstrokes) meet the eye. Inside, simple tawny-colored cakes with minimal ornaments hold the classic salty egg yolk and other fillings. Jeng Chi has been making them for more than 60 years. Available only until Sept. 21.
The Taiwanese bakery offers flaky, bun-like, round mooncakes alongside their buns and breads all of September. Nab individual cakes or gift boxes. Come here for the unique and complex, savory-sweet dong po, filled with a wall of red bean paste, pork floss, nuggets of walnut, an egg yolk, and bits of purplish mochi inside, with Asiago crumbles on top. None of the three varieties is simple: The red bean mooncakes are studded with pine nuts and a center of chewy mochi. Even the taro has an egg yolk nestled as its golden heart.
The grocery chain carries mooncakes in decorative tins. Seasonal displays are stocked with brands like TTJ, Hong Kong-based Rong Hua, Flying Horse, with its filling of Musang King durian from Malaysia, and I-Mei from Taiwan. Flavors range from salted egg or mixed nuts to red bean paste or lotus seed. Check out this video for the fabulousness of an in house-produced mooncake challenge video.
This option didn’t exist this time last year, but at the new Asia Times Square in Grand Prairie, Hong Kong Market carries rows and rows, boxes and boxes, of varieties. Aisles throng with tins from Yen Huong bakery in Houston, renowned for its long tradition of molded mooncakes, as well as Ba Nam Cali, Kee Wah (Hong Kong-based and founded in 1938), Kee Wing. Salted egg yolk and mung bean, coconut, mixed nuts, or durian—it’s all there.
At Grace Koo’s adorable Korean bakery and cafe in Carrollton, mooncakes come hand-molded in flavors of taro, red bean, black sesame, and chocolate. Their surfaces hold the imprint of a leaping rabbit. They have them in boxed assortments of 4 or 6 and in pouches of 2 “for quick snacks.”
I’ll leave you with this wisdom from former SideDish writer Carol Shih:
How to eat a mooncake
People who’ve never encountered a mooncake probably think they’re supposed to pick up the whole thing and stick it in their mouths like a Big Mac. No. Mooncakes, about 3 to 4 inches in diameter, are meant to be eaten slowly. Take a knife and slice the mooncake into fourths (if you’re a fatty) or eighths (if you want to maintain your dignity). Usually, we share these wedges among friends. Drinking cups of hot tea also helps to balance out the sweetness.