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CEBU, Philippines – Every Lunar New Year, red and gold lanterns adorn downtown Cebu. One can also watch lively festival performances while catching the aroma of freshly baked goodies from traditional Filipino-Chinese restaurants and stores.
For years, it has been customary to greet shop patrons with “Gong Xi Fa Cai” and an array of delectable classics like Tikoy, Masi, and Ampao.
These treats are, of course, not only for eating and display as they also represent the givers’ wishes of prosperity for families and friends in the coming year.
According to a guide from the La Fortuna Bakery, one of the well-known “Chibuano” (Chinese and Cebuano) stores in Cebu, making wishes for the new year can be initiated by placing six symbolic goodies on a table covered with red cloth and facing the window.
These symbolic goodies include Huat Kueh, Red Ampao, Chubiko, Tikoy, Masi, and Fortune Cookies.
Find out more about these six “fortune” treats and what goodness they bring for the Year of the Wood Dragon:
The Huat Kueh, commonly referred to as “fortune cake” or “prosperity rice cake,” is a steamed pastry eaten every Chinese New Year. It is a famous treat among Filipino-Chinese communities for being a symbol of growth and prosperity.
According to an article on culinary culture website Hungry Onion, “huat” is Hokkien for “to grow” and sounds closely related to the Fujianese dialect word for “prosper.”
“Huat Kueh is believed to have originated from Longyou County in Zhejiang Province, about 500 kilometers north of Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province,” the article read.
The cake’s most noticeable feature is its signature bloom. It is explained that the bigger the bloom on the Huat Kueh, the more prosperity one will have in the future.
In Cebu, the Red Ampao signifies a “happy and lively year ahead.”
This snack is made by drying leftover rice for hours, frying the rice in hot oil so they puff up, and then glazing the fried grains of rice until all of it is evenly coated.
Many historians like E. Arsenio Manuel attributed the origins of the Ampao to the cultural exchanges and transactions that took place between Chinese traders and Filipino locals in the past.
Most members of the Chibuano community state that the Ampao is used as an offering to beloved departed ones – a practice brought from the “motherland.”
Chubiko is a kind of rice cake filled with mongo or pandan paste. This traditional snack is claimed to bring long life and good health much like long noodles or “misua.”
Most Filipino-Chinese families in Cebu leave the chubiko on a table the night before the Chinese New Year and make their wishes on the eve of the celebration.
The next day, families enjoy the snack either for breakfast or lunch together as a way to welcome the year with hopes of spending more time with loved ones.
If the Chubiko is for longer life, especially with family, the Tikoy represents unity or “sticking to one another.”
Cebu’s Tikoy is a white sticky rice cake, usually wrapped with Chinese symbols for luck and good fortune. Chibuano families often slice and dip pieces of the tikoy in a bowl of beaten eggs before frying.
Tikoy is derived from the Hokkien word for sweet cake or “ti keuh.”
Masi is popular around the northern parts of Cebu, especially in Liloan town. For Cebu’s downtown families, it is a regular sight of Chinoy commerce and a staple snack for elders and children.
The pastry is a sticky rice shaped like a dumpling or a bao (steamed bun) and filled with sweetened peanut paste.
During Chinese New Year, masi becomes more symbolic as the fortune treat of good and simple luck.
There are many stories behind the origins of the fortune cookie but one legend that is told across traditional Chinese and even Chibuano communities is the story of “moon cakes.”
According to the Chinese Historical & Cultural Project, it is believed that during the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, the Chinese invented a way to communicate with one another by stuffing messages inside moon cakes. These messages contained instructions to revolutionaries to fight against their enemies.
In the modern world, this technique evolved into surprise messages of virtue and luck inside of sugar cookies. – Rappler.com