Move over, Basque cheesecake and Caramilk slice. The most popular sweet treat in Sydney right now is the mooncake.
Traditionally eaten by east Asian cultures to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, mooncakes are dense little pastries often enjoyed with tea, and they have been surging in popularity over the past five years.
"There has been a big trend in Asia to make mooncakes more contemporary and appealing to a younger generation," says Anthony Tam, strategy manager for the dumpling-focused New Shanghai restaurant group.
"That's influencing the Australian market too. Lotus seed paste and salted egg yolk are the traditional fillings, but now we're seeing mooncakes filled with anything from truffles, to yuzu and durian fruit. Snow-skin mooncakes are particularly trendy. With a soft, chewy texture, they're similar to a Japanese mochi."
Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. It's also known as the Moon Festival in Australia, where autumnal references can be confusing in spring. October 1 is the main day for lunar celebration in 2020 and mooncake specialists have been overwhelmed with orders in the lead up.
Jim's Malaysia in Chatswood stopped taking mooncake orders on Friday due to high demand for its "butter cheese" and "charcoal durian" flavours. Lotus Dining started taking mooncake pre-orders in August and reached production capacity within a few days. People are still contacting the restaurant group "non-stop" with mooncake requests, said a Lotus spokesperson.
Deluxe six-packs of egg custard mooncakes are available for $43.80 from Sussex Street's Golden Century restaurant and its modern Darling Square offshoot, XOPP. Golden Century restaurateur Billy Wong says quantities are limited, however, and may not last the weekend.
"Orders have been coming in thick and fast and we're trying our best to keep up. We've also started selling them in four-packs with more modest packaging for people to eat at home rather than gift. And you can always dine-in at one of the restaurants and order mooncake for dessert."
Wong says the mooncakes of his childhood were less than thrilling.
"When I was a kid, it was more like 'Oh, it's that old thing again'. The traditional lotus seed cakes could be quite sweet and heavy. Until quite recently, maybe the last four or five years, fresh mooncakes were hard to track down in Australia too. Most were imported from Asia, plastic-wrapped full of preservatives. Now people are eating them because they're fresh and exciting."
Tam says the imported mooncakes found at Asian grocers are usually a southern Chinese-style of the treat, with fillings such as mixed nuts and red bean paste. "Our fresh mooncakes at New Shanghai have flakier pastry and more savoury flavours than the southern-style ones. A bit like a pork pie, really."
New Shanghai mooncake flavours include black sesame, mixed nut, pork and durian, and can still be purchased from its stores in Chatswood, Ashfield and the CBD. "You don't have to wait until October 1 to eat them, though," says Tam. "Enjoy them as fresh and warm as you can."