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! Cooked to golden-brown perfection. (davaotoday.com photo by Jonald Mahinay)

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.

On Fire. Chef Romel weaves his magic. (davaotoday.com photo by Jonald Mahinay)

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.

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