From snail to cilantro: The most disgusting mooncakes of 2020

Society & Culture

The food most associated with Mid-Autumn Festival is the mooncake, a rich, heavy pastry filled with — traditionally — red bean or lotus seed paste and egg yolk. But there's nothing traditional about the mooncakes here — filled with everything from hairy crabs to instant noodles (yeah...).

disgusting mooncakes 2020 Mid-Autumn Festival
Illustration by John Oquist

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

This holiday is celebrated every August 15 on the Chinese lunisolar calendar — which happens to be today, this year. It is the second most important Chinese holiday after Lunar New Year, with a history dating back 3,000 years.

Mooncakes — a symbol of prosperity and family reunion — are traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

In recent years, people have tried hard to make mooncakes — along with this holiday — special and creative. But when you try too hard, the results might go awry. Terribly awry, as we’ll see in today’s special holiday edition of SupChina Eats.

Here are eight…interesting mooncakes you may or may not ever want to try. (If you want to learn how to make a peanut butter mooncake, click here.)

Crayfish mooncake

xiaolongxia mooncake

Xiǎolóngxiā 小龙虾 is a type of crawfish or crayfish. You’ll see it everywhere in China during the summer, when the xiaolongxia is at its fattest and most abundant. The flavors and preparation vary from restaurant to restaurant, but the most popular type of preparation is málà 麻辣, or “numb spicy,” using a mix of dried chilis with Sichuan peppercorns.

I’m a huge xiaolongxia fan. But in my mooncakes? I’d rather just go to a xiaolongxia restaurant.

Luosifen (river snail) mooncake

luosifen mooncake

Native to Liuzhou in China’s Guangxi Province, luósīfěn 螺蛳粉, or river snail rice noodles, consists of a snail-based broth, rice noodles, pickled bamboo shoots, peanuts, tofu skins, and sometimes other vegetables. Known for its pungent and fishy smell, the dish has turned from a cheap street snack to a Chinese national dish after the COVID-19 lockdown. I myself have ordered several packages from Yamibuy.

Topics about luosifen often become top-trending items on the internet. As of today, the hashtag #Luosifenmooncakes has garnered 320 million views on Weibo, China’s Twitter. I guess it makes sense that a Liuzhou luosifen maker decided to introduce this creative mooncake this year. If you’re a luosifen lover, give it a try — no one will judge.

Cilantro mooncake

cilantro mooncake

Ugh, I know. Not everyone likes cilantro. But if you do, you may want to try this first-ever cilantro mooncake made by Taiwan cilantro maker “Mr. Cilantro” along with Hong Kong dessert brand “Autumn Night.” Both the crust and fillings include cilantro powder, dried and fresh cilantro.

Sadly, it’s only available in Hong Kong now.

Hairy crab mooncake

hairy crab mooncake

Hairy crab (大闸蟹 dà zhá xiè), or Chinese mitten crab, is a medium-sized burrowing crab named for its furry claws. Native to rivers and estuaries of eastern Asia, it’s a seasonal delicacy in China. Though hairy crab has also been introduced to Europe and North America, it’s considered an invasive species there. (People there don’t eat them?)

Hairy crabs come to maturity around the same time as the Mid-Autumn Festival, specifically the months between September and December. So why not put crabs and mooncakes together? They’re available at Freshippo, Alibaba’s online-to-offline store.

Fermented bean curd mooncake

fermented tofu mooncake

The fermented bean curd mooncake (腐乳饼 fǔ rǔ bǐng) is actually a very famous Teochew speciality in Guangdong Province. It comes in small pieces with a mixture of aromas from fermented bean curd, milk, garlic, wine, pork, winter melon, peanuts, and 10 more ingredients in the filling. It’s chewy and sweet.

China’s centuries-old fermented bean curd brand Wangzhihe is also said to make fermented bean curd mooncakes this year. Not sure how that mooncake tastes, but Wangzhihe’s fermented bean curd is delicious. This one might actually be pretty good.

Instant noodle mooncake

instant noodle mooncake

A strange idea. Maybe for the campus crowd? The crust is marked with the Chinese characters diǎo sī 屌丝, which is a term often used in a self-denigrating way meaning “loser.” The instant noodle filling is crunchy. You can even pour seasoning on top.

Question: Should I eat these as is or soak in hot water first?

Chives mooncake

chives mooncake

What does chives taste like? They have a similar flavor to two of its closest relatives: onions and garlic. Although it’s a new idea to use chives in mooncakes, chives are a major ingredient in traditional dumplings. Jury’s out on this one.

Vinegar mooncake

vinegar mooncake

Another inspiration from dumplings? With 10 ingredients and handmade Shanxi superior mature vinegar (山西老陈醋 shān xī lǎo chén cù) aged eight years, this vinegar mooncake is said to neutralize the pastry’s greasiness while strengthening the aroma. Shanxi superior mature vinegar is one of Chinese most well-known vinegar varieties and is made from sorghum, barley, and pea.

Again, jury’s out on this one — let us know if you’ve tasted it, or any of the mooncakes on this list. Everything’s worth trying at least once?

Also see:

From lotus seed paste to salmon wasabi: The mooncakes of Mid-Autumn Festival 2019