Years ago, chocolate and ice cream mooncakes were the trendsetters in the annual mooncake gathering for Mid-Autumn Festival. And it was the fancy brands that dominated the list of innovative offerings.
But food is a cyclical business. The fusion style mooncakes blossomed, but soon people went back for the traditional mooncakes, the flavor of which hasn't changed since childhood and is an emotional tie to memorable moments during the festival that celebrates reunion.
In Shanghai, locals always choose the classic, time-honored brands such as Guangming Village, where the longest lines are for the pan-fried pork mooncakes.
Their consistent flavor and quality makes it an easy choice. But even for the traditional brands, a spark of inspiration is needed in a competitive market.
The tradition-meets-creativity concept has proven to be quite lucrative in the past few years.
In 2016, Xing Hua Lou, a famous Shanghai time-honored brand, launched a special qingtuan (sweet green glutinous rice ball) for the Qingming Festival with a filling of salted egg yolk and dried meat floss instead of the traditional recipes such as red bean paste.
The sweet and savory combo sounded so delicious and different that people were standing in lines for a minimum of six hours just to buy a box of these qingtuan.
This spring, Xing Hua Lou brought back the blockbuster qingtuan.
But the lines were only about an hour long, as most people who have tasted it stopped seeking the novelty and the recipe has been copied by about 10 other brands — mostly other time-honored shops just like Xing Hua Lou — who wanted to have a piece of the action.
In the mooncake business, some shops achieved Internet fame last year with hits such as the crayfish mooncake from Wang Bao He hotel, the yanduxian (meat soup-flavored) mooncake from Sunya Cantonese Restaurant and the vegan shitake mushroom mooncake from Yufo Temple.
The competition is more intense now, because the basic idea of making mooncakes, which is stuffing sweet or savory filling inside puffed or chewy crust, can be applied to almost any desirable ingredient.
If crayfish mooncake was the star in 2016, bullfrog mooncake is definitely the winner in 2017.
Bullfrog is loved by many for its tender and delicious meat. Anything bullfrog has the potential to become a hit, like bullfrog hotpot or bullfrog noodle.
The Shanghai First Food Chain has created a Chinese sauerkraut and bullfrog mooncake this fall that gained lots of attention in the early mooncake battle.
Each mooncake contains a whole bullfrog leg that's deboned, and the Chinese sauerkraut adds a little bit of sourness. It's slightly dry.
The shop assistants explain that young people today like to order bullfrog dishes, so they've decided to incorporate the idea into the traditional mooncake.