Simple & savory, China’s festival staple gets a revamp

BEIJING: After thoroughly scanning the supermarket shelves, Liu Feng, who hails from Beijing, selected a box of mooncakes with the most minimalist packaging.
Mooncake is a tasty pastry with varying fillings traditionally given as a gift during the Mid-Autumn Festival, one of the most important holidays in the Chinese culture, which falls on Friday this year.
An avid lover of mooncakes, the 36-year-old Liu would select those with extravagant packaging and often with high price tags in previous years. This year, however, he prioritized the flavor of the mooncakes over their presentation.
“What we eat is the mooncake itself, not the wrappers,” he said, adding that plain packaging is reminiscent of the cultural tradition of the festival.
Since ancient times, Chinese people have had the custom of moon worship and enjoying mooncakes with families during the festival. It is no exaggeration to say that the mooncake is as important to the Mid-Autumn Festival as the turkey is to the Thanksgiving.
In past years, there had been a concerning trend of excessive packaging and inflated prices associated with this festival delicacy, resulting in the waste of resources and unnecessary extravagance. Sometimes, consumers had to unwrap four or five layers of intricate packaging before reaching the product buried deep inside. To curb waste and “sky-high” mooncake prices, Chinese authorities have been working to tighten the regulation of the market.
On Sept. 1, a set of new national standards on food and cosmetic packaging came into effect, stipulating that for mooncakes priced above 100 yuan (about 14 U.S. dollars), the cost of packaging should not exceed 15 percent of the selling price. Additionally, expensive materials such as precious metals and rosewood shall not be used for packaging.
In the run-up to the Mid-Autumn Festival, market regulation authorities in Beijing, Shanghai and other places launched actions to crack down on excessive packaging and high prices of mooncakes.
This festival staple has, at times, been linked to corruption cases involving the exchange of opulent mooncake gifts, leading to extravagance and even bribery. Consequently, China’s top anti-graft watchdog issues an annual warning against the acceptance of extravagant gifts ahead of the festival.
A statement recently issued by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China named and shamed a former head of the Shanghai Futures Exchange surnamed Jiang, denouncing him for accepting mooncakes and tea sent by investors on multiple occasions. –Agencies