Any special foods eaten in the Philippines during the great Chinese holiday? Of course there are many! Settlers from China have been living on the Philippine islands for centuries even before the Spaniards arrived and there wouldn’t be modern Filipino culture without the Chinese influence, particularly on the food.
Tikoy is the most popular treat during Lunar New Year festivities in the Philippines, as iconic as the Chinese New Year’s cake nian gao is in other countries. In fact, tikoy is said to be based on the nian gao of southern China from where Fukienese immigrants to the Philippines came.
It is made from sticky or glutinous rice which is ground into flour and then mixed with lard, water and sugar. Using white sugar produces white tikoy and using brown sugar produces brown tikoy. Other popular flavors include green pandan and purple ube.
Even non-Chinese Filipinos buy tikoy in boxes during this time of year to give to business associates. Store-bought tikoy is chilled in the refrigerator to make it easy to slice into small pieces. The tikoy slices are dipped in a bowl of beaten eggs and then fried in oil.
Tikoy is sweet and sticky enough to keep the Kitchen God’s mouth shut. Offering tikoy keeps him from saying anything bad about you!
Uncut noodles are served for long life. The two favorite noodle dishes during the Chinese New Year in the Philippines are pancit bihon and pancit canton.
A WHOLE FISH
To invite wealth and happiness in the upcoming year, dishes are served that are homophones for words that signify good fortune. For example, the Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the word “surplus” as in a surplus of weath.
POMELOS, ORANGES, PINEAPPLES
The most popular fruit during Chinese New Year is mandarin oranges or tangerines because of their round shapes and golden color. Because oranges were not widely grown in the Philippines and were only imported in recent decades, suha (the local pomelo, sort of like a large grapefruit with a very thick rind) has became the Philippine fruit that one gives away or serves to visitors during the Chinese New Year season. As for the pineapple, it resembles the word for “prosperity” in Hokkien, the Chinese language of most Tsinoys.
Dumplings are served because luck is symbolically wrapped inside. And the shape of certain dumplings is reminiscent of the shape of gold ingots in ancient China.
Hopia is a pastry usually filled with a sweet paste of mung bean. The most popular shape is round and anything round is considered a symbol of good fortune among the Chinese. It is like a small, humble version of moon cakes that the Chinese serve during the mid-Autumn festival.
Lumpia are spring rolls or egg rolls that Fukien Chinese immigrants brought to the Philippines and Indonesia.
Although most Chinese Filipinos are of Christian faith, Buddhism retains influence in their culture, and it is a Buddhist belief that you are cleansed by eating green vegetables.
Kids love chocolate gold coins with their shiny foil wrappers. Candy and other sweet things such as dried fruit and candied lotus root are given in a traditional Chinese box or tray. The “Tray of Togetherness” is octagon-shaped and has eight compartments. Eight is considered the luckiest number by the Chinese.
PEANUTS & SEEDS
Cooked sunflower and pumpkin seeds are among the food items that are included in the the compartments of the traditional Chinese New Year tray. Melon seeds are dyed red to symbolize good luck.