Hard to continue
Consumers snap up these special mooncakes because handmade cakes are rare. No more than 10 places in Shanghai offer handmade mooncakes.
Lack of dim sum chefs is part of the reason.
“If I had been born into a wealthy family and well educated, I would not have become a dim sum chef,” says chef Lai.
His son shows a keen interest in making dim sum, but the father is strongly opposed.
“Being a dim sum chef is too hard,” he says.
Compared with the prospects of Western pastry chefs, the future of Chinese dim sum chefs is less promising, although the professional skills of the two are similar.
In the West, chefs and pastry chefs enjoy nearly equal status and both can become executive chefs, food and beverage directors and even higher. Both can open their own restaurants or bakeries, publish their recipes and even become celebrity TV chefs.
However, a dim sum chef always plays a subordinate role in a Chinese kitchen, generally subordinate to a cook.
Dim sum chefs are not even called chefs by customers but shifu, a respectful form of address generally used for people engaged in specialized trade.
“It’s nearly impossible for a dim sum chef promoted to executive chef in a hotel,” says a hotel insider, declining to be quoted by name.
It is also difficult to find any store or restaurant selling nothing but dim sum in China.
Handmade mooncakes available in Shanghai
Generally, handmade mooncakes available in Shanghai are either Cantonese or Suzhou style.
Cantonese cakes have a brown, glossy crust and creamy, sweet filling, such as lotus seed paste, red bean paste and jujube.
Suzhou-style mooncakes have a flaky crust and diverse fillings, from sweetened rose petals to pork.
Xinya Cantonese Restaurant
It sells both mass-produced and handmade Cantonese-style mooncakes. The mass-produced cakes have diverse fillings, while the handmade cakes are only filled with ground, sweetened lotus seeds. Customers can only buy mooncakes with a voucher. Cash and credit cards are not accepted.
Address: 719 Nanjing Rd E.
Wang Jia Sha
The food store is known for Suzhou-style mooncakes with a filling of pork and pickled mustard. The crisp mustard cuts through the fatty pork and each bite has rich textures and flavors.
Mooncakes are often sold out by 4pm due to limited production.
Address: 805 Nanjing Rd W.
Lao Da Fang
The time-honored food store makes some of the most popular Suzhou-style mooncakes in town. The flaky and crispy crust absorbs meat juice from the filling and tasts aromatic. The pork filling is tender and juicy. During Mid-Autumn Festival season, people queue for at least half an hour.
Address: 635 Yuyuan Rd