Every year, restaurants, bakeries and hotels try to outdo themselves when mooncake season comes round.
Last year, Angry Birds parachuted their way into the mooncakes sphere with fondant covered pastries. This year, diners can buy cheeky baked mooncakes in the shape of perky human buttocks - sexy thong included. Hello Kitty fans will go gaga over Hello Kitty-imprinted mooncakes from BreadTalk.
Or tuck into everything from fruit-based mooncakes filled with pink guava, avocado and passionfruit to ones that taste of milk tea. There are also alcoholic ones with vodka, Irish cream and sake chocolate-truffle centres; savoury mooncakes of lotus paste with Nonya dumpling sweet-braised meat; as well as giant 12cm mooncakes filled with luscious durian pulp.
The pastry is eaten in celebration of the annual Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. Legend has it that mooncakes were used to pass along secret messages to start a rebellion in China under the rule of the Mongols. The mooncakes were embedded with letters, while the patterns on the surface of the pastry also served as coded messages.
The festival will be celebrated on Sept 19 this year.
Behind the buttock mooncakes is lifestyle store Goods Of Desire, a Hong Kong offshoot located at The Central. Its owner Douglas Young, 47, says, the mooncake is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 15th day of the eighth month, which in Cantonese is slang for buttocks. He adds: "Similarly, in English, to 'moon' someone means showing them your backside. It's a fun play on words. We are all about taking something traditional and giving it a modern twist."
Mooncake sellers say they create new flavours to keep abreast of competition as well as to entice new and younger customers.
Indeed, competition is stiff.
Despite that, there are at least four new entrants selling their versions of the pastries this year. They include Laurent Bernard Chocolatier with outlets in Robertson Quay, Portsdown Road and Takashimaya Department Store; Au Chocolat at Marina Bay Sands; popular xiao long bao chain Din Tai Fung; and Heng Hwa restaurant chain Putien.
For example, Din Tai Fung will be rolling out baked mooncakes with Taiwan Songshan pineapple filling complemented with white lotus paste from Sept 1, while Laurent Bernard Chocolatier is offering chocolate-based mooncakes.
Mooncake sellers say sales this year have been brisk so far and are on a par with those in previous years.
Of the 20 restaurants, bakeries and hotels that SundayLife! spoke to, some also report increases in corporate sales of up to 15 per cent. Prices are also up by between 2 and 10 per cent this year due to rising costs of quality ingredients, sellers say.
While they up the ante each year with new creations, traditional baked mooncakes with lotus paste and salted egg yolks still remain popular, making up between 55 and 80 per cent of overall sales.
Diners say they enjoy the novelty of new flavours but will never tyre of traditional versions. Madam C.K. Wong, 65, a retired secretary, says: "I always buy newly created snowskin mooncakes such as those with cheese or fruit for my grandchildren to try. For us older folk, we will taste what is new, but we will always go back to the favourites - wu ren (nuts and Chinese ham) and lotus paste with salted egg yolk."
All mooncakes listed are available until Sept 19.