Chinese New Year is just around the corner, which means our favourite 'tikoy' dessert will soon start popping up everywhere — from Binondo to offices and homes. Before you dive into the sweet goodness of Chinese glutinous rice cake, here are some facts you probably didn’t know about tikoy:

Where did the word “tikoy” come from?

A columnist revealed in an article that the word is actually the Filipinised term of “ti-ke”, which means “sweet pastry” in the Hokkien dialect, the language most used by the Filipino Chinese community. This dialect is also used by the people living in the southeastern part of Fujian Province in China. 

The delicacy is also referred to as “nian gao” in Mandarin Chinese — the most widely-used dialect in China. It translates to “year cake” or Chinese New Year’s cake. It also translates to "higher year", which is believed to promise a better year ahead.

Its sticky consistency symbolises a healthy bond within the family and other relationships. For some, it also means luck will stick to you all year.

Who brought tikoy to the Philippines?

The Chinese-Filipino relationship goes way back, even before the Spanish colonisers arrived in 1521. Traders from southern Chinese provinces exchanged goods like silk, porcelain, beads, and coloured glass among others to Filipinos. Most of the traders eventually settled in the country and influenced the local culture and the local cuisine. In fact, Binondo, Manila is commonly known as the world's oldest Chinatown established in 1594. 

Chinese food like pancit, lumpia, and siomai made its way into the Filipino kitchen and became favourites in due course — including tikoy.

A Chinese New Year dessert turned Filipino favourite

It is widely believed that Chua Chiu Hong, a migrant from Mainland China, was the one responsible for making the well-loved Chinese delicacy popular. In 1912, he established a simple stall in the heart of Ongpin, Manila and sold favourites like hopia, mooncake, and tikoy to initially cater to Chinese immigrants in the Philippines.

Filipinos eventually flocked the stall and instantly became famous for its food. The stall grew to become Eng Bee Tin and is now considered the country’s most popular seller of Chinese delicacies.

A bribe to the Kitchen God

Tikoy is regarded as one of China’s oldest delicacies that its origin traces back to numerous different stories. One legend dates back more than 2,000 years ago during the period of Confucius. The story involves a “Kitchen God” who reports to the Jade Emperor on the behaviours of families, which will be the basis of whether their lives will be shortened or lengthened. Because of this, people would offer the sticky tikoy to the kitchen deity, making it difficult for him to open his mouth and speak ill of the family.

Can it be eaten raw?

Tikoy is usually cooked through slicing it to pieces and coating it with beaten egg and then fried. Chances are, you are probably tired of the usual. With the inevitable abundance of tikoy coming your way, you might want to spice things up and level up your tikoy recipe this year.

Here are some tikoy recipes you can try and explore:

  • Tikoy Turon: Slice tikoy into thin strips and prepare slivers of jackfruit (langka) or banana. Wrap it together in lumpier wrappers and fry until golden brown. Drizzle with condensed milk or wrap with sugar!
  • Tikoy á la mode: Fry tikoy like you usually do (egg-coated) and top it with a scoop of ice cream and your choice of toppings — caramel or chocolate syrup, candy bits.
  • Healthy tikoy: Instead of pan-frying, you can steam tikoy with grated coconut and/or dip it in ground peanut!

Tikoy is made from glutinous rice and is actually edible straight out of the box.