For those who celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, fall in L.A. doesn’t just mean wildfire season, apple picking and Halloween. It also means mooncakes: the dense, fluffy and divisive Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai and Vietnamese pastries stuffed with all kinds of delicious sweet and savory fillings, from salted duck egg yolks to red bean and freshly cooked pork.
Although many regional variations exist across China and parts of Southeast Asia, these substantive wheat-based pastries come shaped in rounds that resemble the full moon to symbolize prosperity, harmony and unity. Hong Kong and Cantonese-style mooncakes typically have their tops pressed into molds, sometimes with the character for prosperity, while Taiwanese-style mooncakes are rounded on top and topped with black sesame seeds or a dot of red food dye or bakery seal. Thai-style lava mooncakes come stuffed with runny salted egg yolks that overflow like molten magma when you bite into them. In any case, the cake’s overall shape mimics the fall harvest moon in the evening sky.
In Los Angeles, you can find these sweets pre-packaged in red-and-gold boxes in Asian grocery stores like 99 Ranch and made fresh daily in the city’s best Chinese bakeries on a seasonal basis. In recent years, they’ve become so popular that some places even make them year-round. Celebrate the start of fall, and (hopefully) cooler weather to come, with a pack of pastries or two from the best mooncake bakeries in L.A.
When is the Mid-Autumn Festival?
In 2023, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Friday, September 29, meaning Los Angeles will hit peak mooncake time shortly after the autumn equinox.