FEATURED PRODUCT: The Story of Hopia or the ‘Good Pastry’
Even Filipinos may not be aware that the sweet pastry they only regard as a merienda staple is, to the Chinese, a symbolical food to honor an ancient cultural tradition. In China of the distant past, the Chinese people used to worship the moon goddess Chang’e. Her husband Hou Yi was a legendary archer who had been rewarded with the elixir of immortality for shooting down the nine out of ten suns to save people from the punishing drought. Both Chang’e and Hou Yi refused to take the elixir and leave each other. When Hou Yi was away one night, the legend goes that Chang’e took the shape of the moon after she had swallowed the elixir of immortality to protect it from thieves. Keeping her promise to Hou Yi, Chang’e flew to the nearest celestial place between heaven and earth so she could watch over her husband. According to the legend, Hou Yi missed Chang’e so much that he made offerings and left them on a table under the moonlight. Since then, the ancient Chinese people worshipped the moon goddess by offering moon-shaped cakes filled with fruits and sweets.
This ancient tradition has become a religious and cultural holiday that carries on today. Every 15th day of the eighth lunar month, usually between August and October, the autumn season is welcomed by an official holiday that is celebrated not only in China but in other neighboring Asian countries as well. The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the moon festival or mooncake festival, is also celebrated in Manila, the Philippines where there exists the oldest Chinatown in the world. Although not recognized as an official Filipino holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival gathers throngs of Chinese and Filipinos in the heart of Chinatown in the Binondo district to mingle and bask in the merry atmosphere. Filipino-Chinese people in this part of Manila observe the festival in their ethnic clothing. They are joined by family members, friends, and loved ones to enjoy small wedges of greasy mooncake with Chinese tea. The Mid-Autumn Festival is the occasion for appreciating each other’s presence and strengthening the bonds. The mooncake itself symbolizes community and the start of autumn when the full moon, which symbolizes prosperity and completeness, shines the brightest. Being the highlight of the festival, mooncakes are also traditionally given as gifts to family members, friends, and co-workers to express spiritual feelings of love and well wishes for the other.
Just as there are regional varieties of mooncakes, there are variations outside China that originated from or were inspired by the sweet-savory pastry. Hopia or Hopya, from the Hokkien word “ho-pia” meaning “good pastry”, was introduced by Fukienese immigrants when they fled the mainland due to its political turmoil in the early 1900s. Hopia has a crusty, flaky, and greasy exterior often offered with sweet fillings that reflect cultural preference like mung bean paste (Hopia monggo), purple yam, and cheese (Hopia ube-keso), jackfruit (Hopia langka), and pineapple (Hopia pinya). If you want to sink your teeth into a sweet-savory variant, hopia is also traditionally filled with lard from pork fat (Hopia baboy). Although the relation of hopia to mooncakes is disputed, one thing to note is that the Chinese settlers came from Fujian province which is sandwiched by two regions known for their variations of mooncake. To the southwest, Guangdong province makes Cantonese-style mooncakes that are generally sweet and identical to sweet variants of hopia. To the north, the Yangtze Delta region is well-known for flaky and lard-filled Suzhou-style mooncakes that have been around for thousands of years.
Regardless of its exact origins, hopia is considered a cheaper commercial alternative to the authentic mooncakes being sold during the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations. It is easier to make and uses cheaper ingredients, thus suitable for the Filipino masses who might want to buy them in packs. If you visit Binondo, it would be impossible not to spot a long queue to a Chinese-Filipino bakery that sells the cult-favorite hopia. Oh, and we are not talking about just a single queue here: the famous Eng Bee Tin has multiple branches dotted all over Binondo. In general, Eng Bee Tin’s hopia appears lightly toasted on the top and bottom to give you an exterior that is crusty, salty, slightly powdery, but also flaky when bitten. The interior can be described as dense with creamy and starchy consistency that delivers a palate experience ranging from subtle to bursting sweet-savoriness, depending on the filling.
My Tindahan now brings you the Mid-Autumn Festival flavors with their latest offerings of Eng Bee Tin’s crowd-favorite Hopia Ube (purple yam) and Hopia Monggo (mung beans). Alternatively, try Ho-Land’s version of Hopia Monggo, Hopia Ube, and Hopia Ube-Langka (purple yam-jackfruit) or Goldilocks’ Hopia Pork, Hopia Black Bean, and Hopia Ube.
Photo from engbeetin.com
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