There seems to be some confusion over the mooncakes post from a couple days ago. One commenter, uh, commented that the cakes in the photo (below, with yellow tops) weren't mooncakes at all, and pointed out that real mooncakes (the other one), despite their apparent eponymy with the Lunar New Year, are actually a tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival. I have to admit, what I saw on the post didn't resemble the elaborately decorated and packaged discs of dense, sugary pastry (they're sort of like Chinese fruit cake—these days buying and gifting them is more symbolic than culinary) I remember having to choke down as a kid. If they weren't mooncakes, then what were they?
Will the real mooncake please stand up?
Seeking answers, I consulted an expert: my mom. According to her, both cakes are called mooncakes. The main difference, she says, is that the flaky ones are eaten year round, including over the New Year, and the elaborately decorated ones are reserved primarily for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Incidentally, there are also pastries called suncakes, a specialty of Taichung, Taiwan.
My mom was amused that I cared so much about distinguishing between the kinds of mooncakes. Chinese people, it seems, give little thought to minute distinctions in nomenclature. (What do you expect from people whose word for "food" is the same as "rice"?) My mom's parting words: "Isn't there a web site or something you could look at instead of calling me all the time with questions about Chinese stuff?"