The Chinese New Year is fast approaching (see 2014 holiday list) and tikoy, which is available year-round but has become synonymous with Chinese New Year, is everywhere. From Binondo to offices and homes. Even in schools. Our little tyke rushed home from school, reporting that they were served tikoy for snacks. He has not tried tikoy before. When asked how it tastes, he replied without batting an eyelash, “Smells like fried chicken, tastes like glue.” It made us smile. And we thought we had to explain the sticky topic of tikoy. Read on. You might have to do the same to your kids.
1. Tikoy can be eaten raw
Tikoy is usually cooked — sliced, dipped/coated with beaten egg, then fried. The savory aroma of egg-coated tikoy fried to perfection is close to that of fried chicken universally loved by kids. Crisp on the outside, soft and chewy inside. And it does smell like fried chicken.
My husband insists — and demonstrates — that tikoy CAN be eaten raw. Living alone in a condo during his bachelor days, my husband had no time (and absolutely no interest) to cook the endless tikoy he received from friends and clients, so he’d eat tikoy raw, slicing it into thinner-than-the-usual pieces. He’s still alive (and eating tikoy) to this very day so there’s likely no side effect.
I cringe at the thought of eating raw tikoy. Never did, never will. But this stubborn opinion, which many of you likely share, cannot change the fact that tikoy is a traditional Chinese dessert made from steamed glutinous rice. Steamed rice. So strictly speaking, it’s not raw because it has been steamed.
2. Tikoy is sticky because of starch
Here’s a simple explanation for a kid inquiring why tikoy is sticky: tikoy is made from glutinous rice; glutinous means sticky. Ergo, tikoy is sticky. Enough said.
But really, because children ask a lot of questions, and they won’t stop unless they receive a satisfactory answer (or until parents run out of patience), let’s venture into details. Glutinous rice is made up of highly soluble starch that breaks apart when heated. For tikoy, the heat is introduced by steaming.
Run out of glue at home and no time to go out? Grab the corn starch. Add little water and stir (just like preparing corn starch as thickener for any dish). Boil the mixture (properly called a suspension in science class, just in case the kids insist that it’s not a mixture). Voila! Home-made glue. Add sugar and that glue may actually resemble the taste of tikoy. I don’t want to find out.
3. Tikoy = Chinese New Year Gift
Tikoy is a favorite gift during Chinese New Year. It’s the equivalent to a mug, a favorite gift during Christmas. But while a mug and the tikoy are similarly mass produced, there’s something more to the tikoy than meats the eye, er, palate.
If the Japanese have the Iron Chef on TV, the Chinese have the Kitchen God in their folklore. The Kitchen God is tsismoso, giving an annual verbal report on all household events to the emperor of the heavens, the Jade Emperor. No family is perfect and there’s bound to be a bad thing or two to report. How to prevent the Kitchen God from reporting, especially the bad things? Make his mouth so sticky, he can’t open it. This is done by offering the very sticky tikoy before the Chinese New Year.
If you don’t buy the first explanation (wouldn’t go well with supporters of free speech), perhaps it’s more palatable to accept the tikoy symbolism for a “higher year.” Tikoy is nian (sticky) gao (cake) in Chinese, but nian gao in Mandarin is also pronounced nian (year) gao (higher). Higher year. More luck. Better health. More money. More success.
We always thought that tikoy helps make blessings and fortune stick to us better. We also thought that tikoy is shared by family and friends during the new year so they’ll stick together more. Sticky tikoy. Closer relationships.
What we can’t explain is why every tikoy we encounter bears the mark “special.” It’s always called special tikoy, from all varieties like Special Ube Tikoy to the plain special tikoy. Anyone?