Hanoians prefer traditional mooncakes to fancy modern offerings

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     People queue up to buying traditional mooncakes at Bao Phuong shop on Hanoi's Thuy Khue Street on September 10. Mooncakes with traditional tastes, whose recipes have been handed down for generations, are bestsellers in the city. Photo: Ngoc Thang

Heavy rains have failed to deter people from making a beeline to Bao Phuong confectionery shop on Hanoi's Thuy Khue Street which sells Mid-Autumn Festival mooncakes made the traditional way.

The cakes are made by a family that has been doing this for generations.

Nguyen Thanh Ha, 30, one of many customers queuing at the shop, told Vietweek: "My family prefers the taste of traditional mooncakes. They are sweeter and smell better than those produced by big confectionery firms and hotels."

Making her way out with three boxes of cakes, Ha said she had to wait for nearly an hour in the queue.

Cakes with more modern flavors are available at many outlets nearby.

The traditional pastry eaten during the festival is normally filled with ham, chicken, salted duck egg yolk, and lotus seed paste.

But its modern variants made by hotels and confectionery companies are stuffed with red bean paste, chocolate paste, green tea, shark fin.

Vietnam is particularly devoted to mooncakes, with most families eating them during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Gifting them to relatives and business associates is also common.

"I am luckier than many other customers," Ha said exultantly.

"They waited for a long time but could not buy because the cakes were sold out."

With no hope of supply matching demand, the shop sells a maximum of five boxes of four cakes each to a customer.

Like Ha, Nguyen Hoang Lan, 55, too prefers the mooncakes at Bao Phuong since she believes they are free of preservatives. Their cakes must be eaten within a week from the manufacture date. Those made by big confectioners and hotels last a month or longer.

Lan arrived early in the morning to ensure that she could buy cakes for gifting to relatives and business associates.

She had failed twice earlier in the week to buy the cakes because she was late and the cakes were sold out.

Inside the shop, workers quickly knead dough, make the stuffing, and dry the cakes, and customers queuing outside can see all of this.

"Seeing mooncakes being made makes me remember Hanoi in the old days," Lan said.

"Decades ago the city used to have villages that traditionally made the mooncakes."

But in recent years the advent of large confectionery firms and hotels' entry into the business have put paid to the villages.

There are many other famous confectionery shops in the capital selling traditional cakes on Hang Dao, Hang Dieu and Hang Be streets. These are crowded though their cakes come without the fancy packaging that is now popular.

Some even have to hire security guards to control the crowds.

The owner of one such shop on Hang Dieu said it is not surprising to see people switching back to traditional mooncakes since some modern confectioneries use materials such as shark fin and abalone for the filling, causing the cakes to lose their traditional taste.

Their use of preservatives also turns consumers away, he said.

Pham Duy Bao, 83, the proprietor of Bao Phuong, said hotels and big manufacturers have not affected his business since his customers keep coming back.

His cakes are popular because they have a unique taste and reasonable prices, he said. He sells a box of four cakes for VND200,000-320,000 ($9.5-15.2).

On the other hand, modern confectioners and hotels set up mooncake counters where a fancy box costs up to hundreds of dollars.

Expensive mooncake packages are known to also have expensive tea and liquor.

"Such expensive mooncakes are mainly used as gifts or consumed by the rich," Lan said.

"For common consumers like me, traditional cakes are the best choice. They are delicious but cheap."

The Mid-Autumn Festival comes around on the 15th day of the eight lunar month. This year it falls on September 19.

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