Mooncake rush has people waiting in line overnight

By Quynh Nguyen   September 27, 2023 | 06:24 am PT
Mooncake rush has people waiting in line overnight
Customers line up in front of Dong Phuong bakery before mid-autumn festivals. Photo by VnExpress
At 1 a.m. on Sept. 24, Le Thuy and her whole family stand in line in front of Dong Phuong Bakery in Hai Phong, waiting to buy mooncakes.

When she first arrived, the 55-year-old woman saw hundreds of people already queuing, with some using blankets or newspapers to keep warm while they slept on the sidewalk.

"I need 20 boxes to give as gifts to my business partners and relatives, but the store only allows three boxes for each customer, so I brought my whole family with me," Thuy says.

One of her acquaintances comments that they only like Dong Phuong’s traditional mooncakes, which include lotus seeds, nuts, Chinese sausage, jam, and salted egg yolk.

About ten people down the line from Thuy is Phong Hien, 75, and his wife. They’re also in line early to buy authentic Dong Phuong mooncakes for their relatives who live far away.

Seeing hundreds of people lining up in front of the bakery on Cau Dat Street is a sight that happens every year, but this is the first-time customers have had to stay up in line all night for their turn.

"Some people have to bring blankets and pillows with them to sleep on the sidewalk. It looked incredibly uncomfortable," says Hong Lan, a 60-year-old woman who lives nearby.

According to her, the Hai Phong locals do not care too much about the brand of the mooncake, but for people from other provinces, this bakery is famous and has become an icon of traditional mooncakes.

Mooncakes are part of a mid-autumn festival, which is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. It falls on Sept. 29 this year.

"People that love mooncakes with traditional fillings are especially particular about this brand, and so every year there’s always a lot of people in line," Lan says.

Customers forming two lines in front of Dong Phuong Bakery to receive their number on the morning of Sept. 19, 2023. Photo by Lien Hau

Customers forming two lines in front of Dong Phuong Bakery to receive their number on the morning of Sept. 19, 2023. Photo by Lien Hau

However, not everyone has the time to queue from midnight. Thus, an army of professional buyers also enters the scene.

Bui Lien is a 45-year-old who buys mooncakes on behalf of her customers and doesn’t mind queueing at midnight.

"If you’re late, all the mooncakes my customers want will be gone. Every 5 to 10 minutes another 30 to 40 people line up, so I might as well come early," Lien says.

Buyers like Lien usually charge VND40,000-80,000 (US$1.64-3.27) for each box of cakes.

"No matter how much they make, all of the cakes will always sell out. Sometimes my customers want me to buy more, but I’m unable to accept their requests," Lien says.

In order to fulfill her customer’s orders, she has to enlist two to three more of her relatives to line up with her.

Also on the scene is Nguyen Tung, a 32-year-old man who also buys on behalf of his customers. He recalls one time he fell asleep and when he got to the bakery at 4 a.m., there were over a hundred people in front of him.

After learning his lesson, he arrives at 1 or 2 a.m. now to purchase the type of cakes his customers want.

A local police officer says that from July to before mid-August of the lunar calendar, the number of people coming to the store shot up dramatically, whether it be day or night.

He adds that part of the reason for this is because the store is limiting the amount of cakes they are selling. This has led to an excessive number of vehicles parking in the street causing traffic jams. An officer was deployed to direct traffic to ensure the safety of the citizens.

"This store receives hundreds of customers even if it is unbearably hot or if there is a storm," the police officer says.

To explain why so many people are choosing to buy mooncakes from Dong Phuong, Bach Duc Tung, a representative from the bakery, says that most of the customers are people who want to keep old traditions.

Consequently, the mooncakes from Dong Phuong are able to preserve the traditional flavor and are also distinct enough that they can hold onto their customers’ trust and loyalty.

According to Tung, another reason is that the bakery does not use preservatives in their mooncakes, which means that the cakes have a short shelf life. Regular mooncakes have to be eaten in 20 days, and snow skin mooncakes must be consumed in 10 days.

Due to this, customers cannot buy them too long ahead of time, leading to an exorbitant number of people lining up in front of the bakery as the Mid-Autumn Festival draws closer.

"During the other months of the year, we’ll sell our cakes on social media, but once August of the lunar month rolls around, we’ll only sell at the store because we’re afraid of the cakes expiring in the middle of transport," Tung says.

The bakery is planning on researching selling through e-commerce channels to make it more convenient for customers.

Le Quy Duc, former Vice Director of the Center for Culture and Development of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, says that the reason so many people are lining up just to buy mooncakes is because they are nostalgic about the Mid-Autumn Festival of their youth.

He says this also shows their determination to have a delicious mooncake for themselves or to give to their loved ones.

"There will be opinions saying that lining up that early is too much and that wealth changes manners, however, the person buying may see it as a joy to receive something valuable after the effort they put in.

Not only that, but the Mid-Autumn Festival also only comes once a year, and if there’s demand there will definitely be supply. As long as everyone is aware of their own situation, then everything will be fine," Duc says.

go to top