My Affair with Tikoy

I should have known not to judge a meal from how it looked before it was cooked. Good ol’ tikoy should have taught me that.

Davao Today <>
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 8, February 17-23, 2008

I should have known not to judge a meal from how it looked before it was cooked. Good ol’ tikoy should have taught me that.

My involvement with tikoy has been fairly recent.

Tikoy is the star of the Chinese lunar New Year. In fact, it is called the Chinese New Year Pudding. Why, I used to wonder. Ground Valencia malagkit (glutinous or sticky rice), wheat starch, lard, water, and sugar are steamed for about two hours. The result is an off-white-to-light-beige glob that has the consistency similar to well-oiled modeling clay, only denser. This glob is then shaped into a circle about an inch thick and usually put in a bright red box. Voila! Tikoy!

I’m sorry but, to me, it really was hardly appetizing to look at. No matter how they tried to pretty it up, it was difficult to imagine that it would taste anything but the glob that it was. It didn’t help when they made flavored tikoy either. Why would you buy strawberry glob when you can have strawberry milkshake? Why would you buy pandan glob when you can have buko pandan? Why would you buy ube glob when you can have ube halaya?

Then, one afternoon, my sister brought home a box of tikoy. She said a Chinese classmate had handed them out as a New Year token. The classmate also gave instructions on how to prepare the glob. I was going to refuse outright but I needed a snack at that time and the store was just too far away. It was then that I learned that the glob didn’t taste like glob at all. It was actually quite yummy. Sliced about a quarter of an inch thick and coated with beaten egg before frying, it was quite delicious. Though I still would rather have a banana cue if it were around.

Enter William Go, founding president of the local Filipino-Chinese organization, the Davao Kaisa, who invited us to a cookfest on the bisperas (eve) of the Chinese New Year at the Grand Emerald Seafood Garden this year.

Grand Emerald was at the back of Victoria Plaza mall in Bajada.

I confirmed there that tikoy – a term that ostensibly comes from the Chinese ‘ting ke’ or sweet cake – was indeed the star of the Chinese New Year feast.

More than wearing red or handing out red envelopes, the delicacy should never be absent from the table as the sweet cake symbolized family unity and closeness.

At first, I thought we had been invited to an all-tikoy cookfest. I was relieved to find out that, aside from tikoy, Mr. Go also had the restaurant’s assistant chief cook, Chef Romel Pina cook up other dishes. It was short-lived relief, though.

The chow fan or Chinese fried rice was great. It was also amazing to watch how Chef Pina would flip the fried rice, sprinkled with yellow from the scrambled eggs and green from the different vegetables and spices. The split second that the chow fan was up in the air was almost magical. And, of course, the buchi tasted better than any popular fast food chain could muster.

There was fruit salad, too, with a generous dollop of cream sauce. Topped with shrimp. Yes, shrimp. There was also what they said was going to be soup, but looked like watered down algae. Finally, there was the black mushroom dish.

You have to understand, I l-o-o-o-v-e mushrooms as much as the next person. I could give up meat most days if we had a wider variety of fresh mushrooms. You can imagine that mushrooms more than made up having tikoy for dessert. That is, until they showed me what would go with the mushrooms.

Hair. It looked exactly like the hair I would pull out from my brush at night.


All in all, the meal was not something I looked forward to. Until I sat down and actually started eating.

The watered down moss turned out to be pureed spinach. The process – and whatever magic chef Romel performed – apparently took out the vegetable’s extra bitterness. The result was a kind of egg drop soup with a spike. I had two bowls of that.

And the hair? Seamoss! Gastronomically delightful seamoss that would top every variety of mushroom that I have known in my life. It was definitely not hair (yes, I have tasted hair before). It was like very thin miswa in your mouth, only not as flimsy, and with quite a distinctive taste.

Finally, there was tikoy. It seems that my sister – genius that she is – is nowhere near chef Romel’s caliber. Apparently, the trick with cooking tikoy is that it should remain soft, but not too soft like a chewed-up gum. And the egg should not coat the tikoy completely but should just be brushed very lightly. Do not deep fry, they admonish. So, what do you get? Light golden brown slabs of perfection… Truly this side of heaven!

I will still crave for my banana-cue fix. But if tikoy like that and a banana cue is placed on the table side by side, I will pick out the tikoy every time.

No wonder the sweet and sticky tikoy symbolizes unity and family togetherness. No wonder, Chinese mothers use tikoy to lure their kids back home during special occasions such as New Year. I will never look at the glob the same way again. It is wonderful!

There is a lesson to be learned here. But I’m just too stuffed to think.

My only advise to you is that the next time your Chinese classmate offers you watered down algae, stringy hair sea moss and a glob of tikoy, tell him to pile it on.

Kung Hei Fat Choy! Davao Today <> / Posted by Bulatlat

Share This Post