“Are you Filipino? Do you like Tikoy?” . “Yes and yes”, I said, to the friendly server at my favorite Malaysian restaurant who was trying to sell me “tikoy”. Tikoy (say ‘tee-koy’) is a steamed rice cake made up of glutinous rice flour, lard, water and sugar. Back in the Philippines, it wasn’t Chinese New Year if we didn’t have tikoy at home. Friends from the Chinese community always gave it to our family, as a gift. The Philippines was strongly influenced by a mix of cultures from neighboring countries. The Chinese influence was strong in all levels.
Chinese New Year celebrations center on two things: family and food. Asians and their kin travel from miles away to come together with their families on this moveable lunar celebration. Togetherness is a must. And food is abundant. The more food there is, the better. An abundance of food symbolizes prosperity and good luck.
Here in America, I search high and low in Asian markets every year for the traditional store-bought Tikoy. It can be eaten year round. But it is most popular in the Chinese New Year. It is known as “tikoy” in the Philippines. It is also known as “Nian Gao” in Mandarin, a homonym for the phrase “higher year”, a good luck thought.
I spoke to the cook who made the Tikoy I bought. She described how she cooked this rice cake. She told me how she steamed the Tikoy for 24 hours straight. You could tell this pudding-like cake, with a gelatinous texture was exceptional.
In my American kitchen, I cook food to celebrate the Lunar New Year. It is interesting to hear what other Asian cultures traditionally cook. My niece, Tsui Chern grew up in Singapore, but now lives in California with her husband and daughter. Here’s what she told me about their celebrations:
“ We serve tikoy too, although we pronounce it differently. The word is actually a melding of 2 languages. The Hokkien dialect “ti” means sweet, and the Malay word “kueh” which means cake or pastry. We normally present it to the gods during the 15 days of Chinese New Year. The belief is that during these 15 days, the lesser/demi-gods go up to heaven to report on the mortals’ behavior for the past year. So we mortals try to sweeten what they say with sweet foods, and “tikoy” is one of them.”
How to cook Tikoy or Nian Gao for the Chinese Lunar New Year
- about 8 ounces sliced in 2-inch strips, from Asian markets 1 large store-bought tikoy or Chinese rice cake
- 2 to 3 whole pieces beaten, for coating tikoy strips eggs
- 1/4 cup for pan frying tikoy vegetable or corn oil
- a huge pot piping hot, for serving tea
- Pre-grease with cooking spray a large, sharp knife and the cutting board for slicing the tikoy. Peel off the plastic and banana leaf wrappers from the tikoy. On a large, dry cutting board, slice the tikoy rice cake in thin strips, about 2-inch length.
- In a medium sized bowl with the beaten eggs, soak the tikoy strips. Make sure tikoy is coated evenly with the egg.
- Over medium high heat, add the cooking oil to the large skillet or frying pan. After 1 to 2 minutes when oil is hot enough, pan fry the tikoy slices dipped in egg. The egg-covered tikoy should take a minute or two on each side to firm up to a crisp slice. Remove from the skillet and drain on paper towels or parchment paper to minimize the excess oil.
- These are good for a snack or a side. Serve the slices warm with piping-hot tea.
- Cook's comments: Here in the States, tikoy or the Chinese rice cake can be found in Asian markets or Chinatown during Chinese New Year.
- Cooking tip: my niece Tsui Chern who grew up in Singapore suggested steaming the tikoy slices in a steamer to soften them. This is an alternative to pan frying. Each slice can be too sticky to handle, though, so be sure to pre-grease the knife, cutting board and insides of the steamer for easy handling.