While searching for the best tikoy in town, I learned from Joseph Tiu how the interesting tradition of tikoy-eating began.
He learned this story from his grandfather, Tiu Kim Hok, a native of Xiamen, China. In Chinese mythology and in Taoism, the Kitchen God, Zao Sheng, is a very important god. Each family has its own Zao Sheng, considered the guardian of the household.
Once a year, on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, one week before the Chinese New Year, Zao Sheng will ascend to heaven and present a report to the Jade Emperor on how the members of a family behaved in the past year. The Jade Emperor then rewards or punishes the household based on Zao Sheng’s report.
This is why an offering of nian-gao (Mandarin for tikoy—“nian” or “tian” means “sweet,” “gao” means “cake”) is made to Zao Sheng on that day.
Why the sticky-sweet nian-gao in particular? “Sticky because the family wants the nian-gao to ‘stick’ to the Kitchen God’s mouth, thus preventing him from giving a negative report,” explained Joseph. “And sweet for a sweetened version of the household activities in the past year.”
The word tikoy is a derivative of the Fookien word “ti-ke” (sweet cake).
Nian-gao is also most appropriate to be given during Chinese New Year, as it sounds like two other words—“nian” (year) and “gao” (high). As such, nian-gao, ti-ke or tikoy conveys the intention and a wish for a better year.
Lastly, the sweet cake, being round, signifies more money, more prosperity and good, never-ending relationships, according to another expert, Sofia Co.
Who makes the best tikoy in town? It remains debatable, but here is a rough guide with tasting notes shared by my Chinese-Filipino students, friends, restaurant owners and Xavier School co-parents who are not just foodies but tikoy aficionados, as well.
Sweet Taste Tikoy is not overly sweet. It is soft and remains that way even after it is cooked and left to cool. If kept in the refrigerator, it stays soft enough for slicing before cooking.
Sampaguita custom-makes giant tikoy up to 4 kg each. Its brown sugar tikoy is delicious.
44-C Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong; tel. 531 6961
Good Luck Tikoy is soft yet firm, and not too sweet.
126 Iriga St. La Loma, Quezon City; tel. 741 5755
Echague Bakery Tikoy is made by one of the oldest manufacturers of tikoy in the country. It is firm to the bite.
410 A. Bonifacio, Brgy. San Jose, Quezon City; tel. 364 7154
Salazar Bakery Tikoy stays soft after it is cooked and cooled.
Ongpin St. Sta Cruz, Manila; tel. 7331397
Buena Mano has a nice chewiness, and is not too sweet.
649 B Tomas Mapua St., Sta. Cruz, Manila; tel. 352 8539
Shin Shin is soft and sweet.
15 Dorotea St., Caloocan; tel. 4009368
Ho-Land is neither soft nor hard, and has a perfect sweetness. It is made the traditional way, by mixing two kinds of rice (malagkit rice and rice grains), which are ground and soaked overnight and processed the next day. The tikoy is then wrapped in beancurd (taupe). Ho-land’s process ensures the distinctive flavor, texture and stickiness of its sweet cake.
551 Yuchengco St. Binondo, Manila; tel. 2429709, 2429595, 0922-8158551
Choi Garden offers gold bar, brown sugar, date and ginger tikoy. The ginger tikoy is aromatic, subtle and wonderful with tea.
12 Annapolis St. corner Purdue St. Greenhills, San Juan; tel. 7276042, 7277489, 7245343
Crystal Jade Candy Sugar Tikoy has just a tinge of sweetness. Fantastic chew.
Bonifacio High Street Central, 30th St. corner 7th Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; tel. 8085233
Hai Shin Lou’s tikoy is made from imported malagkit, red dates and brown sugar, making it particularly soft.
810 Arnaiz Ave. San Lorenzo Village, Makati; tel. 7527433, 8925148
Shin Ton Yon’s special red bean tikoy is a Taiwan recipe. It has no preservatives, artificial coloring or flavors. Must be kept refrigerated.
825 Salazar St. Binondo, Manila; tel. 243 2087, 243 2089
Shin Tai Shang Eight Treasures Tikoy has red dates, black dates, longan jujube, goji berries, cranberry, walnut, raisins and gingko nuts. It has no preservatives, artificial flavors or coloring and must be kept refrigerated. Shin Tai Shang also imports other brands from Taiwan.
815 Salazar St. Binondo, Manila; tel. 244 0325
Various ways to cook ‘tikoy’
There are various ways of cooking tikoy.
Sofia Co: “With winter melon. The tikoy turon is the original spring roll. It is cooked during Chinese New Year—a roll cooked during spring time.
“To prepare it traditionally, get half a piece of lumpia wrapper, top with a strip of tikoy, add a piece of sweetened winter melon and a very thin strip of fresh pork back fat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Roll and deep fry slowly, over medium heat to cook the fat. The tikoy, winter melon and strip of pork back fat combined, should have a circumference of 1 inch.”
Abby Dichaves: “With ube. Slice tikoy. Put a piece on half a lumpia wrapper. Add a spoonful of ube haleya. Roll and fry.”
Jennifer Lao: “Palitaw style: Slice tikoy. Boil. Dip in a mixture of sugar, shredded coconut and toasted sesame seeds.
“Banana fritter style: Slice tikoy, top with a slice of banana, sprinkle with sesame seeds, coat in batter, fry.
Batter: Combine 1/2 c flour, ¾ tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt. Combine and lightly mix 2 eggs, 1/3 cup evaporated milk, 1/2 cup fresh milk. Gradually add flour mixture and mix lightly.”
Jecelle Tycangco: “With cheese. My mom Lily Ang would leave the tikoy to age before cooking it. This results in tikoy that is firm to the bite.
“Wrap a thin strip of tikoy with a strip of Eden or Quick Melt cheese. Roll with half a lumpia wrapper. Fry in oil.”
Johanna Lao: “With langka. Put tikoy and langka strips on half a lumpia wrapper. Roll. Fry in oil.”
Stevie Villacin: “With bacon. Slice tikoy into strips and wrap in lumpia wrapper with a small slice of bacon. Fry slowly over medium heat.”
Eng Bee Tin’s Stir Fried Tikoy
500 g Eng Bee Tin Special Tikoy sliced into strips
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sugar
Pinch of pepper
1/2 c water/broth
200 g slice cabbage*
100 g each—sliced carrots, sliced pork, shrimp
Sauté garlic in oil then add pork and shrimp. Add the rest of the ingredients, the cabbage last. (You may substitute cabbage with togue or string beans.)
Tips to welcome the New Year
Master Aldric Dalumpines has a simple way to beckon luck in the coming year. Put eight sweet red apples and one pineapple atop the dining table from Jan. 27 to Feb. 14. Eight red apples stimulate the yang energies for 2017 and a pineapple to welcome it.
For your birth sign’s lucky crystal bracelets, visit Atong Sy of World of Crystals.