Chinese New Year isn’t Chinese New Year without the obligatory gift of tikoy in its familiar red box. Also called niangao (nyen-gaoww), this seasonal dessert was initially used as a present in ceremonies before it eventually developed into a food staple during the Spring Festival. Niangao sounds like “year high” which signifies a higher income, a higher position, and generally the promise of a better year.
The Filipino word tikoy is adapted from the Hokkien/Fujian word ti (sweet) and ke (cake). It is made of glutinous rice, lard, water, and sugar, which is then pounded into a paste and usually formed into a round shape. It is typically cooked by being dipped in beaten eggs—but cut the tikoy first into bite-sized strips, of course— before it is fried in a bit of cooking oil. This creates a slightly crispy coating to the soft, chewy, sticky tikoy meat.
There are numerous bakeshops and restaurants offering their own versions of this delightfully sweet and sticky Chinese delicacy. But is one tikoy brand really different? To be honest, all those years of accepting tikoy gifts and cooking and eating them, we never really gave much thought to how different one tikoy brand was from the other. Is it time we figure out the nuances that make one tikoy superior, or at least distinct?
We ordered a cake each from five well-known tikoy sellers in Manila to smell and taste the difference.
This popular upscale Cantonese restaurant offers tikoy in the classic brown sugar flavor, but what you should try is its date-flavored tikoy. Quite a new taste for Filipinos, this tikoy has a natural flavor, a refined texture, and smells quite aromatic. Choi Garden’s special tikoy is not sugary, even though dates are one of the sweetest fruits around. It’s the kind of date we wouldn’t mind calling back as soon as it’s done.
12 Annapolis Street corner Purdue Street, Greenhills, San Juan, (02) 8727-7489
Ho-Land Chinese Delicacies
This family-owned store is well known for its hopia, mooncakes, and special tikoy. It offers unusual flavors like mango and pandan that are moderately sweet smelling. Not too tough nor soft, these flavored tikoy have absolute chewiness to them.
551 Yuchengco Street, Binondo, Manila, (02) 8242-9709
The special white tikoy at this 71-year-old Binondo institution—known for its breads and pastries at affordable prices—imparts a familiar taste with a tinge of sweetness. It has a fantastic texture, and is easy to slice, cook, and chew. Moreover, it goes well with coffee. Salazar Bakery offers other tikoy flavors as well, such as stuffed in peanuts and bean paste, or smothered in sesame seeds.
Ongpin Street, Sta Cruz, Manila, (02) 8733-1397
One of the earliest manufacturers of tikoy in the country, Sampaguita has long been a crowd favorite among food lovers. Known for its well-balanced flavor and moderate chew, this tikoy isn’t overpowered by an excess in sweetness. Sampaguita has been popular for their custom-made gigantic tikoy that weighs up to 4 kilos. But we were told this isn’t available at the moment.
44-C Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong, (02) 8531-6961
Sweet Taste Bakeshop
This Quezon City bakeshop started selling its homemade tikoy back in 1991. What’s great about this tikoy is it stays soft even after it’s cooked, with just the right amount of chewiness. Unlike other more commercial tikoy, it’s not at all rubbery, nor does it feel too heavy. But it is a tad on the sweet side. Sweet Taste’s special tikoy is available in various sizes and in classic white and brown variants.
47-A Nicanor Roxas Street, Quezon City, (02) 8731-7147
[This story first appeared in a slightly different form in Metro.Style. All tikoys were checked for their current availability.]