Michele Teboul   13 February 2018

Chinese New Year in Manila

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Manila. Picture: jojo nicdao / Flickr

Chinese people have made their homes in the Philippines for many hundreds of years, so it's not surprising that Chinese influence is enormous and extends to every corner of society, culture - and of course food.

 The Chinese New Year is no exception. The Philippines plays host to huge Chinese New Year celebrations and the festivities are enjoyed by Filipinos all around the world. 

This important time of the year centres around two things: family and food. And when it comes to food, nothing symbolises Chinese New Year more to Filipinos than tikoy. It’s a centrepiece for the festivities. 

A sweet cake 

Tikoy is made from glutinous rice flour, wheat starch, salt, water and sugar, with the colour of the cake depending on whether you use white or brown sugar. You can also add other ingredients – some add dates, for example. 

Tikoy is thought to have derived from the nian gao cake of southern China, which Fujianese immigrants likely brought to the Philippines in the late 19th century. 

The Filipino word tikoy is adapted from the Hokkien/Fujian word for this delicacy: ti (sweet) ke (cake). 

The Mandarin pronunciation of “tikoy” - nian gao (nian - sticky; gao - cake) can also sound like the Mandarin for “higher year” (nian - year; gao - higher). Tikoy is, therefore, considered a symbol of a “higher year”, or better times to come.

tikoy

Tucking into tikoy is a big part of the festivities. Picture: Jhong Dizon / Flickr

A recipe for tikoy 

You can buy tikoy in the shops, but why not make your own? You can mould it to a variety of shapes – one popular one is pair of carp, to symbolise surplus and abundance. 

Serves 8

Prep time - 15 minutes
Cook time - 45 minutes
Total time -  An hour

Ingredients 

1 pack (400 grams) glutinous rice flour

2/3 cups brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup boiling or warm water

2 tsp sesame seeds (optional)

1 tbsp veg oil or non-stick cooking spray

Water as needed 

Method

  • Mix the boiling or warm water and the sugar in a bowl. Stir to dissolve.
  • Let the sugar mixture get cold, then add vanilla.
  • Place the glutinous rice flour in a large bowl and pour in the sugar mixture.
  • Add water to the dough a little at a time until it’s smooth
  • Grease a round cake tin with vegetable oil or non-stick cooking spray.
  • Pour the dough in the cake tin and shake to spread it to the edges.
  • Sprinkle with sesame seeds on top.
  • Place the cake in a steamer covered with cheese cloth.
  • Steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the edges of the cake separate from the tin.
  • Remove the cake from the heat and cool.
  • Use a knife around the edges to remove the cake.
  • Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight. 

Tips

  • Slice in segments two inches long and half an inch wide, and dip in an egg wash before frying.
  • Only use a small amount of oil when frying.
  • To serve without frying, just reheat the tikoy in microwave before serving.

Or check out this video for how to make a tikoy. 

It's time to get cooking!

The myth behind the gift 

As well as being a centrepiece of family celebrations, tikoy is also given as a gift to family and friends, thanks to a Chinese legend. According to the legend, the Kitchen God makes his annual trip to heaven just before the first day of the new year, to give his report on the good and bad activities of every household for the past year to the Jade Emperor, Emperor of the Heavens.

And so giving tikoy as a gift symbolises offering it to the Kitchen God – but here’s the twist: it’s believed that the sweet and cloying tikoy will make his mouth sticky and so he won’t be able to speak and tell the Jade Emperor anything bad about the family that gave him the tikoy.

Nian gao

Tikoy derives from the Chinese nian gao sticky rice cake. Picture: ManhattanProject / Wikimedia Commons

Not just for Chinese New Year  

Tikoy can be eaten any time of the year. Just because it’s associated with Chinese New Year, doesn’t mean you can only eat this sweet dish once a year.

And it’s not just the Chinese communities that have tikoy - all Asian cuisines have their own versions of glutinous rice treats. There’s mochi from Japan and tteok from Korea. The closest Pinoy rice dishes to tikoy are sapin sapin and kalamay.

We’d love to see the wonderful tikoy you make in all its colours, shapes and sizes. Please feel free to post any pictures you have in the comments section below.