OK, discovered that jibblyess is my colleague from work who accompanied me on a marathon mooncaking expedition on Saturday.
We managed to hit up every. single. local Chinese mooncake bakery (and one Vietnamese one), and we do have a winner.
First of all, the rules. In order to try evaluate across bakeries fairly, we tried to do an apples-to-apples (or, rather, mung bean to mung bean) comparison. Occasionally, we tried lotus seed, depending on availability, and sometimes with egg yolks (as it’s easy to evaluate the mooncake without taking the yolk into account).
All of the bakeries we visited were most definitely the Hong Kong style. Sadly, Portland’s Taiwanese population doesn’t seem big enough to support a Taiwanese bakery. My Lovely Tasting Assistant™ (LTA™) is from Taiwan (as is jibblyess, via Canada, eh), and both of them have a preference for the Taiwanese style of mooncake, which tend to be smaller, spherical and flakier.
The HK style tends to be a dense, squat round or square brick of a tender pastry, filled with a dense paste of various sorts. Most common are mung bean and lotus seed, with one or two salted duck egg yolks (the color and shape of which are supposed to evoke the image of the full moon). If you’re at all familiar with mooncakes, these are likely the ones you’re picturing in your mind.
So, first of all, Freshman Bakery in Beaverton no longer seems to exist. Fail.
The first Chinese bakery we hit was Mei Sum. It was freshly baked, and the kid selling it to us advised that we keep the bag unsealed until it cooled fully. This was a great sign that the bakery cares about the quality of their food, and it showed. Mei Sum’s mooncake pastry was far and away the best of all the local mooncaked, with the crispy exterior and a tender, soft crumb. The filling was flavorful and smooth, though ever-so-slightly gritty
The second bakery was Meianna, in the Fubonn Shopping Center complex. Mooncakes were prepackaged and sitting on shelves to be purchased. We tried two different round mooncakes here, mung bean and lotus seed.
I’d like to point out that the design of these mooncakes was by far the most beautiful of those we tried, with deeply engraved letters and a beautiful, glossy shine. The pastry was uniformly tender, with none of the lovely crisp contrast of Mei Sum’s. In fact, the softness of the pastry blended in with the smooth filling, eliminating any real contrast in texture at all.
The next bakery was Gary’s, which were also freshly made, not prepackaged like Meianna’s. The pastry was the most moist and tender of the bunch, so much so that a large corner of the pastry fell off as we picked it up. The pastry had a kind of damp texture that blended into the filling, with a relatively smooth interior.
The last Chinese bakery we visited was King’s. King’s was out of the lotus and mung bean, so we tried the so-called “combination” mooncake, a mashup of various nuts and seeds bound together by a sweet paste. It’s the granola bar of mooncakes.
This was an unusual one-- at this point, we’re starting to realize that Mei Sum’s lovely, crispy pastry really was something special in the Portland mooncake world, as once again King’s pastry was unremarkable. Tender, one-note, done. The crunch of the filling is what really made this mooncake stand out from the others, which makes sense, because it’s not mung bean or lotus seed. This is a bit of an unfair comparison, and we’ll have to revisit this one at a later date, to try their mung bean or lotus seed variety.
That’s it for the Chinese bakeries. I think we hit all of the ones in Portland, aside from the “Red Robe Teahouse”, which supplied the mooncakes for the Lan Su Garden mid-autumn festival celebration. We can’t all be perfect.
And now, the outliers.
After Meianna, we popped into Fubonn, which had a dwindling selection of prepackaged mooncakes in fancy boxes, mostly from California, but a few from Hong Kong and Taiwan. This falls outside of our criteria of local Portland mooncake bakeries, but we’re adding it in because this was the only place we found Taiwanese style mooncakes, from Sheng Kee bakery. (Funny note- the English on the box says it’s from San Francisco, while the Chinese reads that it’s from Taiwan). Having technical problems with my camera now, but what we purchased was very similar to the purple mooncake in this photo from the internets: Layers of interwoven flaky, crispy crust with a beautiful chewy taro/coconutty/vanilla flavored filling. Delicious, wonderful, remarkable, wholly different from the HK style mooncake bricks we’d been stuffing ourselves on all afternoon.
The only utter mooncake failure I can report were the Vietnamese style mooncakes from An Xuyen
We were really excited to try these (especially the white one, which was really unusual to us), but both were just. plain. awful. First of all the white exterior was kind of a fermented mochi flavor that stunk just a bit or rotten bananas. The fillings on both has almost no flavor, no sweetness. We felt like we were chewing on banana bubble gum. We couldn’t finish those. HOWEVER… their meatball banh mi was delicious! Go there, eat that. $3.00 well spent. Avoid the ca phe sua da, which was way too sweet.
There you go, Portland. A near-exhaustive evaluation of the local Chinese moocake situation in town. Jibblyess, it’s your turn to add to the discussion.
On to the next project!