For centuries the Mid-Autumn Festival has been a time for family reunions and a children’s day out to enjoy the beauty of the full moon.
The moon cake occupies center stage on the table, where people can get their hands on it and it goes perfectly with a cup of green tea.
The cake is a symbol of family harmony and often stirs childhood memories of waiting excitedly to munch on it, especially the salted egg yolk in the center.
But times and things have changed.
Take a walk around the streets of any city these days -- with around two weeks to go for the 15th day of the eight lunar month -- and it is hard not to find a bakery or stall selling moon cakes and people lining up to buy.
Thanh Dung, a media company executive, admits it is customary for her to gift them to clients and relatives. It costs her at least VND200,000 (US$9) for a box of four cakes with different fillings.
“But I have to buy at least 10 boxes, and half of them cost more than VND500,000 ($23),” she says.
“Sometimes, I am tired of the festival. We don’t have time to celebrate because we are stuck with buying and giving gifts.”
Huu Anh, who runs a small business at home, says he prefers giving moon cakes from five-star hotels to his business partners, whether or not they taste good.
“Even if it tastes just like its regular counterpart, I think my business associates will be pleased since they know it is expensive and can feel my respect for them.”
He said some of his friends spend much more than him on expensive moon cakes.
“The moon cakes only make up a small portion of the gift. The basket usually has expensive tea and liquor and luxury packing, a gold-encrusted box for instance.”
There are gift hampers costing up to VND13.6 million ($647) sole by Daewoo Hotel in Hanoi. At Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake Hotel, the average price of a hamper with 6 cakes and a bottle of wine is around VND1.54 million ($73).
Thuy Tien, who studied for a master’s degree overseas, said she prefers buying homemade moon cakes.
“I just bought a few boxes from my friend and I can trust her about the safe ingredients. The cakes have no brand, are reasonably priced and also taste good. Moreover, I can send personalized messages too. Isn’t it fun?”
In Vietnam, the festival has become truly high-profile with Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Baskin Robbins, Haagen-Dazs coming out with new flavors.
This year’s moon cake highlights include black garlic, mochi, layered, and jelly.
But Dung wonders how many cakes will actually be eaten out of the tons produced each year.
“Last year, my family had a stash of moon cakes left in our kitchen cupboard when the season ended. It was not because the cakes were awful to taste.
“It is because we adults are busy with material things and building relationships and have forgotten how to enjoy the festival we once did as a child.”