A steadily shrinking market has not stopped a Hanoi family from crafting wooden mooncake molds for the last 35 years.
The family of Tran Van Ban, 53, in Thuong Tin District, Hanoi, has been making mooncake molds for over three decades. Their working calendar for this product runs from third to the eighth lunar month, when Tet Trung Thu, or the Mid-Autumn festival, is celebrated in September. Mooncakes are a delicacy served during this festival.
Each mooncake mold has a distinctive shape and requires numerous steps. “First off, I have to turn a solid block of wood to a specific frame that the client has ordered,” Ban said. The modified block is then carved. There are many types of wood used, but Ban works mainly with xa cu, or faux acajen, a kind of softwood. Faux acajen trees line the majority of Vietnam’s streets and parks. The species can sustain tough weather conditions and grow in diverse terrains. Not only is the wood rot resistant, its leaves and barks are said to carry many health benefits. Thus, this wood has high economic value.
The most meticulous work is carving designs into the mold, whether they are mythical creatures or floral and other decorative patterns (Vietnamese lotus flower is the most common). While reframing, drilling and sawing can be done by machines, carving these designs is done completely by hand. Once the intricate design inside the mold is finished, the craftsman makes a handle for the bakers’ convenience.
Ban’s family produces about 500-600 molds every year. The prices vary depending on the size, from VND150,000 to 300,000 ($6.5-13) a mold. Their customers are traditional mooncake producers. Ban, who says his family inherited the vocation from village elders, says there are less than a handful of families persisting with this vocation. His family makes other wooden artifacts during the rest of the year when it is not mooncake season. Ban is hopeful that in the near future, people will shift back to using wooden molds instead of those made with plastic or other materials, recognizing its health benefits.