FEATURED PRODUCTS: Filipino Kakanin (Rice Cakes)
Kakanin or rice cakes are inseparable from any Filipino occasion. Heck, it is unimaginable. It is impossible to go to any birthday party and not find at least one or two varieties of sweet and decadent kakanin. Ours is a culinary culture of extremes. If it is not that sweet, then that rice cake is bland and needs to be rolled on white sugar or sprinkled with dried coconut. Filipinos’ love affair with sweet-on-sweets goes way back before Spanish colonization. Rice cakes were already part of the native diet. It was also offered as a gift to visitors or to please the deities. The king of Palawan sent rice cakes intricately wrapped in banana leaves as a gift to the Spaniards. Antonio Pigafetta described the kakanin they received resembled sugar loaves and tarts.
Back then, making a kakanin is time-consuming because one had to follow traditional procedures and ingredients. Today, wide varieties of kakanin can be sticky, buttery, tender, fluffy, dense, and sweeter due to the addition of modern ingredients while keeping the original spirit of the recipe. Besides, Filipino groceries (hint: My Tindahan) carry brands of kakanin ready-mix that can be easily prepared in a modern kitchen. Below is a rundown of popular kakanin available in ready-mix packaging at My Tindahan:
Bibingka reigns the streets of the Philippines when Christmas comes around. One cannot ignore the tantalizing aroma coming off clay pots lined with banana leaf where the bibingka is steamed. One can feel the Filipino Christmas spirit as stalls serve freshly baked bibingka to hungry churchgoers after mass in the late afternoon. Bibingka is a tender, fluffy rice cake with butter and melted cheese baked onto the top. It is round in shape and slightly charred on top and bottom due to the way it is traditionally cooked, but without the burned taste and only ever giving it a subtle sweetness and fresh aroma from the banana leaf.
Ginataang bilo-bilo is a refreshing and decadent bowl of dessert filled with generous amounts of sago (edible starch from sago palms), cuts of plantain and sweet potato, and strips of jackfruit swimming in rich coconut milk. The main characters are the balls of glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk, hence the term “ginataan” meaning cooked in coconut milk. This dessert is called bilo-bilo because—surprise, surprise—the main ingredients are round shape. Ginataang bilo-bilo is often prepared on Christmas or New Year because Filipinos have the superstition that anything round shape on the dining table will bring prosperity. Beyond the holidays, it is a favorite merienda and summer cooler that can satiate and comfort the soul.
Kutsinta will always get everybody’s attention due to its bright orange hue. Unlike the kakanin mentioned here so far, kutsinta is a jelly-like sticky rice cake that uses very few ingredients. This sweet Filipino delicacy is made of glutinous rice flour, brown sugar, lye water, and annatto extract to give it the yellowish coloring. Some theory suggests that this kakanin is named after the pre-colonial kitchen tool used to mold it. Kutsinta does not taste satisfyingly sweet on its own, so it is always topped with grated (dried) coconut meat. Kutsinta is a sought-after kakanin during birthdays and holidays.