The mooncake shone with all its lunar glory during this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival

This year’s Mid-Autumn celebrations were different from those before the pandemic but students still found a way to eat mooncakes together.

Mooncake, a Chinese delicacy eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Matthew Chen’s Mid-Autumn Festival usually comprises a room resounding with the laughter of close relatives and friends, sharing food and mooncakes. The merriment lasts a week, but for the past two years, it has been cut short to just one day due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, his love for the hallmark tradition of eating mooncakes could not be dampened even slightly.

“We still try our best to find time to meet each other during this time of the year as it makes us feel united, and we definitely eat lots of mooncakes,” said Chen, an undergraduate student majoring in communication.

The traditional festival, also known as the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival, is celebrated in several Southeast Asian countries including  China, Vietnam, Japan and Singapore and is a national holiday in some parts of the world, like Taiwan, North Korea and South Korea.

At the University of Southern California, dozens of students and faculty who are away from home gathered on Sept. 21 for the start of the Mid-Autumn Festival with their friends, sharing feasts and finishing with mooncakes for dessert. The mooncakes, a Chinese delicacy, are distributed among families and friends -- a symbol of unity and camaraderie.

They are round pastries made with stuffings of individual choices like lotus paste and red beans,  and often contain salted yolks inside.

“We bought four large boxes of mooncakes,” said Jing Jing Long, a faculty member of Student Affairs at USC. “I like the nontraditional ones with matcha, egg yolks or mochi stuffings. I have a favorite brand called Mei-Xin back in Hong Kong, China, which translates to ‘beautiful heart.’”

Other varieties of the delicacy cater to a diverse palette.

“While celebrating with my family, I love it when we have mooncakes with the lotus paste and a salty egg yolk in the center,” said Shawn Gao, an undergraduate student of neuroscience.

The 99 Ranch Market is a common store to buy mooncakes, according to several students. Bakeries in Los Angeles had all hands on deck to cook batches of mooncakes to meet the demand.

“Even though we sold out, our customers are still trying to buy mooncakes. One of them bought 300 boxes of mooncakes, with nine pieces in them. Each box was priced at $29, and it was a big purchase for us,” said Jonathan Liou, supervisor of the 85°C Bakery Cafe on Wilshire Boulevard. “We make ours in a special way, and the ones with the yolk in the middle sell out very fast.”

The pandemic has had a massive impact on how people celebrate festivals and, in turn, how bakeries and restaurants operate. For some businesses, like Chinatown’s Phoenix Bakery, adapting to the quick changes proved to be a challenge.

“This is just a time for families to gather, and we’re a little limited because of the pandemic right now,” said Kathryn Chan Ceppi, CEO of Phoenix Bakery. “So, family dinners and things have not been scheduled as frequently as we would like.”

Despite the limitations, Phoenix Bakery still made 1,600 red bean mooncakes for the Huntington Library and their autumn festival, Chan Ceppi said.