It’s Chinese New Year – and time for tikoy!

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It's Chinese New Year - and time for tikoy!
It’s Chinese New Year – and time for tikoy!

Chinese people have made their homes in the Philippines for many hundreds of years, so it’s not surprising that Chinese influence is enormous and extends to every corner of society, culture – and of course food.

The Chinese New Year is no exception. The Philippines plays host to huge Chinese New Year celebrations and the festivities are enjoyed by Filipinos all around the world.

This important time of the year centres around two things: family and food. And when it comes to food, nothing symbolises Chinese New Year more to Filipinos than tikoy. It’s a centrepiece for the festivities.

A sweet cake

Tikoy is made from glutinous rice flour, wheat starch, salt, water and sugar, with the colour of the cake depending on whether you use white or brown sugar. You can also add other ingredients – some add dates, for example.

Tikoy is thought to have derived from the nian gao cake of southern China, which Fujianese immigrants likely brought to the Philippines in the late 19th century.

The Filipino word tikoy is adapted from the Hokkien/Fujian word for this delicacy: ti (sweet) ke (cake).

The Mandarin pronunciation of “tikoy” – nian gao (nian – sticky; gao – cake) can also sound like the Mandarin for “higher year” (nian – year; gao – higher). Tikoy is, therefore, considered a symbol of a “higher year”, or better times to come.


Tucking into tikoy is a big part of the festivities. Picture: Jhong Dizon / Flickr

A recipe for tikoy

You can buy tikoy in the shops, but why not make your own? You can mould it to a variety of shapes – one popular one is pair of carp, to symbolise surplus and abundance.

Serves 8

Prep time – 15 minutes
Cook time – 45 minutes
Total time –  An hour


1 pack (400 grams) glutinous rice flour

2/3 cups brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup boiling or warm water

2 tsp sesame seeds (optional)

1 tbsp veg oil or non-stick cooking spray

Water as needed


  • Mix the boiling or warm water and the sugar in a bowl. Stir to dissolve.
  • Let the sugar mixture get cold, then add vanilla.
  • Place the glutinous rice flour in a large bowl and pour in the sugar mixture.
  • Add water to the dough a little at a time until it’s smooth
  • Grease a round cake tin with vegetable oil or non-stick cooking spray.
  • Pour the dough in the cake tin and shake to spread it to the edges.
  • Sprinkle with sesame seeds on top.
  • Place the cake in a steamer covered with cheese cloth.
  • Steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the edges of the cake separate from the tin.
  • Remove the cake from the heat and cool.
  • Use a knife around the edges to remove the cake.
  • Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.


  • Slice in segments two inches long and half an inch wide, and dip in an egg wash before frying.
  • Only use a small amount of oil when frying.
  • To serve without frying, just reheat the tikoy in microwave before serving.

Or check out this video for how to make a tikoy.