To hell with tradition, Hong Kong mooncake marketing at a high
Few Chinese foods have been so unashamedly hijacked by commercialism as the mooncake.
Come mid-summer the mooncake marketing juggernaut starts to launch brand after brand of mooncake -- each more gimmicky, more tricked-out, more hard-sold than the last.
This year, mooncake mania reached a screeching fever pitch when the Angry Bird mooncake was launched by chain bakery Maxim's.
Mooncake purists, it's time to let go. When the historical Mid-Autumn sweet treat is taken over by an iPhone gaming app, there's really no point in insisting on tradition.
Ahead of this year's Mid-Autumn Festival on September 12, we attempt to pin down this most fluid post-modernist food trend by speaking with Veronica Mak at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who is a Chinese food anthropologist as well as a part-time lecturer in the Department of Marketing.
Also on CNNGo: The Mooncake Challenge
CNNGo: Do you have a precise definition of the mooncake?
Veronica Mak: I am not specialized in the study of mooncake. However, based on my knowledge, there are very few records on exactly what is the definition of the mooncake.
I think it is a general term for the kind of cake people eat when they appreciate the beautiful full moon during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
CNNGo: What do you think of Angry Bird mooncakes?
Mak: Well, it's just a type of marketing tactic -- product diversification.
CNNGo: Do you like these new trendy mooncakes?
Mak: On the discussion of the logic of goods production and the logic of taste production, the French philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu tells us that “every change in the system of goods induces a change in tastes.”
I think in this capitalist world, the logic of production will create the need for innovation in taste, no matter if you like it or not.
Yet, I find it culturally interesting for the novel ingredients in new mooncakes, as this tells us what consumers in Hong Kong today consider as a mark of distinction.
CNNGo: How do you think these trendy mooncakes affect Chinese culture or Chinese food culture?
Mak: Chinese food culture is always changing, and tradition is always an invention. I think these trendy mooncakes will not replace the "traditional" one, but will meet new needs.
For example, the snowy mooncake provides an alternative choice of mooncake which can be eaten cold, is more refreshing and lower in calories, though high in sugar.
CNNGo: Do you like to eat mooncakes? Which are your favorite?
Mak: My favorite mooncake is the traditional five-seeds mooncake from Lin Heung Teahouse. When you eat it with a cup of pu'er tea, it gives out such a rich level of taste and texture.
I also like to eat the freshly baked mooncakes from the 八仙餅家 in Sham Shui Po.
CNNGo: What other Mid-Autumn foods are your favorite?
Mak: I think most people have forgotten that tea is in fact more important than the cake in the past, in appreciating the lovely moon.
Headlining mooncakes of 2011
Edible Angry Birds: The wingless, outraged birds conquered our free time and now they have invaded our traditions. Angry Bird snowy mooncakes are available from Maxim's for HK$55 a set. The bakery also makes a popular Melody mooncake. See www.maxims.com.hk for details.
Blinged-out boxes: Most of the time, the pastries themselves are besides the point. It's the showy packaging that will impress.
Like the Swarovski crystal-encrusted mooncake box sets from Le Méridien. The aluminium containers covered with 88 pieces of Swarovski Elements and lined with pink velvet, are to be used as jewellery boxes after the mooncakes are gone. Kudos for recycling.
Priced at HK$1,388, the set also comes with two complimentary glasses of Champagne at any Le Méridien Cyberport restaurant or bar. Call Le Méridien Cyberport for details, +852 2980 7410, www.consumer.org.hk
Biggest stretch of imagination: SEVVA's sister bakery, Ms B's Cakery, has come up with a mooncake that doesn't resemble traditional mooncakes or snowy mooncakes at all.
A twin set of mini cakes is decorated to look like Mid-Autumn Festival paper lanterns. The sweet things consist of mango and coconut mousse with a center of fresh bits of mango and pomelo, all encased in cream. A light, refreshing redefinition of "mooncake." HK$160 for a set of two. www.msbscakery.hk