First Round: Mooncake crash landing

The 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar is mooncake season in China. This compact – and some may argue greasy – confectionery is the hallmark of the Chinese mid-autumn festival, an erstwhile thanksgiving for the harvest but now more of a corporate gift-giving extravaganza.

There may have been killjoy attempts to snuff out ostentatious presents among Chinese officials in recent years, but First Round was chuffed to find the practice alive and well among the private equity community.

Even a lowly hack like First Round got in on the action, receiving a fancy box of mooncakes from a venture management firm.

Needless to say, it didn’t waste a second tearing into that bright red box adorned with the Eiffel Tower (wait…), glasses of wine (hang on a minute…), and the Arc de Triomphe. Disappointment kicked in as it bit into that first mooncake only to discover it was made of French pastry, not the traditional dense dough.

Personally, First Round would have liked the classic lotus seed paste mooncake. Biting into that sugar and lard-laden filling. Receiving, mid-consumption, a salty tinge of duck egg yolk.

But not everyone loves their mooncake on the traditional side. A Hong Kong fund formation lawyer says he ate half of a smallish chocolate mooncake this year, reassuring himself “it’s actually the lighter, lower calorie substitute for the real thing”. A placement agent says he enjoys ice-cream mooncakes as he finds the traditional cake “too rich and heavy”, while a Singapore-based PE practitioner says his favourite is the Grand Hyatt’s lychee martini truffle.

Each to their own.

Mooncake etiquette can be a stumbling block for the uninitiated. One PE veteran, having recently moved to Hong Kong from London, wasn’t aware giving mooncakes to staff was a big deal.

“I dutifully went to the Mandarin and bought a hoard of ridiculously expensive mooncakes assuming I needed one per person. That was before I learned that people generally slice them into small pieces and eat only a small amount!” That’s one way to win over your employees.