Welcome back to the Shanghai Street Food series! Twenty one down, who knows how many more to go? I didn’t really know which street food would leap out at me first when I returned from Australia, but as it turns out it was these crispy Suzhou shì yuè bĭng 苏州式月饼 (Suzhou style mooncakes).
Timely, given that the Mid-autumn Festival, the traditional time for giving and receiving mooncakes, is here on September 12. The shops are full of mooncakes, every person walking down the street seems to be carrying a highly decorative box (or six) of mooncakes, and street corners are packed with guys selling illegal mooncake vouchers. I ate my first chocolate covered icecream Häagen-Dazs mooncake yesterday – it had a scoop of mango sorbet in the centre to represent the moon, usually achieved with a salted dugg egg yolk. Personally, I’m glad they left out the salted egg.
Most of you will probably be thinking – those don’t look like mooncakes! Mooncakes are more decorative, and shinier, and….well…festive looking. These mooncakes, I assure you, are different. Cantonese style mooncakes, the decorative ones, are eaten just once each year, but these Suzhou style mooncakes (originating from Suzhou, about twenty minutes by high speed train from Shanghai) are baked and eaten every day of the year here and are more homestyled and frankly more delicious than their Cantonese counterparts.
Suzhou style mooncakes are baked fresh every morning and then sold in traditional snack shop booths open to the street, where they can be sold piping hot to people passing by. These particular mooncakes are from Lao Da Fang – a famous Shanghai lăo zìhào 老字号(old trademark shop) established in the snack and mooncake business for since 1851, and their hot mooncake booths can be found in snack shops all over the city. They also have a flagship store at 536 Nanjing Dong Lu near People’s Square if you want to eat at the source.
Suzhou mooncakes come with either sweet or savory fillings, surrounded by a crisp flaky pastry based on lard (I made these last year at the Chinese Cooking Workshop, you can find the recipe here). The crisp pastry yields to a soft, smooth savoury pork filling flavoured with soy and a little ginger. These xiān ròu yuè bĭng 鲜肉月饼 (fresh meat mooncake) are the most popular kind, sold and eaten hot. About 3 yuan (40c) each.
Sweet mooncake varieties are also available. This is hăi cài yuè bĭng – 海菜月饼 – sweetened seaweed flavour. I still struggle with these sweet-savoury combinations, but it wasn’t too bad. Give me another two years and I’ll probably find the combination of seaweed, sugar, nuts and sesame seeds irresistable!
Flavours of red bean paste and yellow lotus seed paste are also sold.
My favourite sweet yue bing are definitely these – filled with black sesame paste mixed with finely chopped walnuts and sugar. The crispy pastry moulds around the lovely black nutty centre, and as you take a bite little flakes fall off and stick to the corners of your mouth. Sticky, nutty, crispy, flakey loveliness.
The Shanghai Street Food Series
Number 24 Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25 Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes