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Pickles and Pork? Here Are Some of San Francisco’s Most Unusual Mooncake Flavors

Written by Han LiPublished Sep. 27, 2023 • 5:30am
A tray of mooncakes filled with a black sesame and walnut stuffing sit at Yummy Bakery & Cafe in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Friday. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Feeling adventurous about mooncakes this year? Some bakeries in San Francisco’s Chinatown have something new for you to try.

As one of the most important festivals in Chinese culture, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the 15th day of the eighth month of the Lunar calendar, which is this Friday. It is celebrated all over East Asia with different styles of mooncakes, those puck-shaped confections with various types of filling that are served as a sacrifice to the moon god.

Here in San Francisco, a sizable Cantonese population has long dominated the mooncake market with traditional Cantonese flavors like white lotus seed paste with egg yolk or a popular mix of five types of nuts and seeds, like olive kernels, walnuts, almond, melon seeds and white sesame.

However, some bakeries in Chinatown are choosing to challenge convention a little, developing more modern recipes in an effort to attract younger customers. The Standard tried multiple uncommon mooncake flavors, and here is a quick guide for those who want to try something different this year.

Purple Sweet Potato

A mooncake with purple sweet potato filling complemented by a single egg yolk is cut open on a sheet pan at Yummy Bakery & Cafe in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Friday. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Purple sweet potato’s bright color and its soft and creamy texture have made it a popular item among the younger generation. That’s why Jacky Xu, the owner of Taishan Restaurant, got his baking inspiration.

“It’s created for the young people,” Xu said. “It could be a good breakfast and won’t be too sweet.”

Yummy Bakery across the street also has the purple sweet potato mooncake, but it puts one egg yolk in it, while Xu’s version is potato only. He advised the customers to warm it up for better taste.

📍 Taishan Restaurant 台山风味, 622 Jackson St.
💰 $28 for a box of 4

Pork and Pickles

A mooncake filled with pork and pickle stuffing is cut open at iCafe Bakery, where they are a specialty, in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Friday. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Moon cakes are not always a sweet dessert; they can stand on their own as a meal. Across East China, in places like in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, locals will use pork and pickles to make mooncakes.

“This is for those who crave salty-flavored mooncake,” Hanna Zhang, the owner of the 45-year-old iCafe on Waverly Street, told The Standard. Zhang is Cantonese, but she sees the business opportunity of bringing these flavors into the market and said the sales are decent.

In addition to the stuffing, this type of mooncake is also known for its crispier skin compared with the Cantonese style. Zhang also advises her customers to warm up their mooncakes for a better taste.

📍 iCafe Bakery 幸福饼家, 133 Waverly Place
💰 $28 for a box of 4

Durian Custard

A poster advertising durian custard-filled mooncakes hangs on the wall at Yummy Bakery & Cafe, where the confections are a specialty, on Friday, Sept. 22. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Here is a controversial one: Fans of durian will line up at Yummy Bakery & Cafe to get some of Jenny Xu’s special mooncakes before they sell out, while haters will stay as far away as possible.

Durian, the tropical Asian fruit, has long been a divisive topic because of its—well—awful smell. However, according to Xu, the high demand for her durian custard mooncake proves the popularity of the spiky fruit.

Xu emphasized to The Standard that she uses expensive Malaysian Musang King durian to make the cake and you can smell the freshness—or, for some people, the fetid aroma that reminds them of sewage—once you cut this mooncake open.

📍 Yummy Bakery & Cafe 人仁饼家, 607 Jackson St.
💰 $12 for one

Dried Orange Peel

A staff member helps customers purchase mooncakes at AA Bakery in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Friday. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

For Henry Chen, the owner of AA Bakery in Chinatown, dried orange peel—or chenpi, in Chinese—is more than just a Chinese medicine or cooking ingredient. It’s something that makes him proud of his hometown.

Chen is a Chinese immigrant from Xinhui, Guangdong, a place known for quality orange peel. He said he was the first one to use the expensive orange peel imported from Xinhui to make mooncakes in Chinatown, and now many other bakeries have it, too.

The base of the mooncake stuffing is red bean paste. Chen said the orange peel, a slight salty and sour fruity taste mixed with the paste, can balance the sweetness of the cake.

📍 AA Bakery & Cafe 永兴饼家, 1068 Stockton St.
💰 $13.50 for one

Han Li can be reached at

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