Chefs are rolling up their sleeves to prepare moon cakes at the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival
Mooncake, the traditional food for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on September 22 this year
Every year around this time, Vietnam starts cranking out moon cakes at full speed.
Indeed, for the next three weeks or so, the whole country will be overtaken with the giving of these lunar-shaped treats.
Understanding exactly why can be a difficult proposition for a Westerner. Vietnam's mid-Autumn Festival (in Vietnam, autumn officially begins in July) falls in the middle of the eighth month of the lunar calendar.
This year's mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 22, and you're likely to see a lot of happy young kids marching around with small colorful lanterns and golden brown moon cakes leading up to the event.
The cakes themselves are generally round and stamped out of ornate molds. They consist of a thin outer skin holding together a dense interior filling. They may contain an egg yolk at the center a homage to their namesake satellite.
Adults will begin dutifully giving moon cakes to friends, family and colleagues.
The season of giving is on something of a time crunch, as well. As the big day nears, bakeries and shops will begin offering the cakes at discounted prices. Giving these cakes the day-of is considered a sign of miserliness.
WHERE TO BUY
RENAISSANCE RIVERSIDE HOTEL SAIGON
8-15 Ton Duc Thang St., Dist. 1
Tel: (08) 3 822 0033
Price: VND551,000/box of four
SHERATON SAIGON HOTEL & TOWERS
88 Dong Khoi St., Dist. 1
Tel: (08) 3 827 2828
HOTEL EQUATORIAL HO CHI MINH CITY
242 Tran Binh Trong St., Dist. 5
Tel: (08) 3 839 7777, ext: 8000
Price: From VND360,000- 760,000/box of four
SOFITEL SAIGON PLAZA HOTEL
17 Le Duan Blvd., Dist. 1
(08) 3 824 1555
Price: VND 280,000+ to VND 500,000+/box of two or four
NEW WORLD HOTEL SAIGON
76 Le Lai St., Dist. 1
Tel: (08) 3 822 8888
Price: VND580,000/box of four (250 grams each)
VND580,000/box of eight (75 grams each)
VND110,000/cake (250 grams)
So the gifting has already begun.
As you might imagine, Saigon's deluxe hotels are producing moon cakes at full steam.
Matthias Widor, director of food and beverage at the five-star New World Hotel Saigon in District 1, said that the cakes serve a special social function this time of year. The ornate packaging prepared by these high-end establishments is sought out nearly as much as the cakes themselves.
"They prove meaningful gifts for relatives, friends and colleagues," said Widor. He added that lotus seed, and a combination of black sesame and two salted duck eggs turned out to be last year's biggest hits.
Moon cakes come with an endless variety of fillings, shapes and sizes. They are both sweet and savory. Some meld the two flavor worlds. As a rule, though, a good moon cake isn't too sweet or too fatty.
Apart from New World Hotel Saigon, customers can stop by the Equatorial Hotel Saigon in District 5 to enjoy moon cakes stuffed with Tiramisu-flavored lotus seed paste, green tea, and a mixture of roasted chicken, mixed nuts and one with salted duck eggs.
The remaining hotels do a fantastic job with the cakes. Finding a preferred source of moon cake is a distinctly personal task for true residents of Ho Chi Minh City, like seeking out a hairdresser or mechanic.