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Feature: Hong Kong-style mooncakes the apple of Vietnamese's eyes
From:Xinhua  |  2017-10-03 23:14

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By Le Yanna & Bui Long

HANOI, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Queues at makeshift stalls selling mooncakes, a harbinger of the approaching Mid-Autumn Festival, are not as long as in previous years, partly due to the economic slowdown, and partly because more and more Vietnamese are opting for Hong Kong-style bakery products.

"For many years, I have chosen Vietnamese traditional mooncakes, which are fairly simple and very sweet, for the festival, but today I am changing my mind," Nguyen Thi Hien, a post office clerk in Hanoi, said on Monday, while standing in front of three colorful mooncake stalls on the campus of the Mipec Tower trade center in Hanoi.

"I want my family to try Hong Kong-style mooncakes, which are said to be not only trendy, but also tasty. Moderately sweet, to be exact," the full-figured, middle-aged woman said, lifting up a red square box for consideration.

The red box contains one big mooncake and seven smaller ones. The shop assistant told the potential buyer that the set of mooncakes is named "Tinh Te" (Delicacy), and they are filled with powdered egg, salted egg, oolong tea, green tea, white lotus, red beans, green beans and durian.

After a few minutes of carefully examining the elegant box, tentatively listening to the shop assistant's explanation, and finally departing with 850,000 Vietnamese dong (37.6 U.S. dollars) in cash, the woman left with the cakes, mumbling "I am getting my money's worth."

"Hong Kong-style mooncakes have won the heart of more and more Vietnamese gourmets because they are not too sweet; very suitable to increasingly bigger numbers of health-conscious people here," Nguyen Van Tho, chief customer officer of local firm Maison, told Xinhua recently.

Ingredients imported from China's Hong Kong are made into mooncakes at a plant in Hanoi under the strict supervision of Hong Kong experts, Tho revealed, adding that there are approximately 100 Maison shops in Vietnam, predominantly in big cities.

"Mainly thanks to their quality, eye-catching design and impressive product names, Hong Kong-style mooncakes in general and Maison products in particular are selling like hot cakes, mainly at prices ranging between 500,000-800,000 Vietnamese dong (22.1-35.4 U.S. dollars) per unit," Tho said, adding that hundreds of major companies in Vietnam have bought such mooncakes for their employees.

However, the local man acknowledged that this Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on the 15th day of August according to lunar month (on Wednesday, Oct. 4), mooncake sales are not as robust as in previous years.

"Vietnam's economy has yet to recover, so many customers have tightened their purse strings. And I think another major reason is that Vietnam is intensifying fights against corruption and wastefulness, so fewer people are willing to buy too costly mooncakes, which are sometimes accompanied by a bottle of imported alcohol or a bag of rare tea, as gifts for others," Tho said.

For those who want to spend less but still taste Chinese flavors, online distribution channels of Hong Kong mooncakes and home-made Vietnamese versions of Hong Kong products are two feasible options.

A woman from Hanoi, who has developed broad business relations with Chinese producers and traders, but declined to be named, said last weekend that she has bought large volumes of Hong Kong mooncakes over the past two years, and then resold them in the Vietnamese market, mostly via her social media accounts.

During the Mid-Autumn Festival last year, the woman sold hundreds of cartons of Hong Kong mooncakes, with each carton containing 50-60 cakes. During the festival this year, her sales are a little bit smaller.

"My best selling item is mooncakes filled with red beans and walnuts, which cost less than 100,000 Vietnamese dong (4.4 U.S. dollars)," the woman said.

To make Chinese mooncakes even more affordable to Vietnamese customers, many local people, both professional and amateur chefs, are baking Hong Kong-style mooncakes using their own modified methods.

Some chefs strictly follow Hong Kong styles but make the mooncakes smaller to lower the sales cost, while others use local ingredients but remain loyal to Hong Kong flavor and design by keeping their products moderately sweet and their wrappings fairly elegant.

"Powdered eggs, oolong tea and walnuts are fairly expensive, so I use such alternatives as coconuts, green tea and fragrant leaves. But our modified versions of Hong Kong-style mooncakes are still selling well," Bui Thi Huyen, a young cook at the Tan Trieu Nursery School in Hanoi, told Xinhua.

"Seeing that more and more adults and children prefer Hong Kong tastes, I have changed my method of making mooncakes this year, and sold them to my relatives and friends for much lower prices," the cook smiled.

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, especially at night, mooncakes, an indispensable delicacy of the annual event, are eaten while family members and friends gather in their houses or open-air venues, chatting or watching the moon.

In Vietnam, the Mid-Autumn Festival is considered the most important festival for children, and is often associated with lanterns and unicorn dances.

But many adults, especially young couples, also go out into the night and enjoy mooncakes and the autumn spirit together.