Celebrating Chinese New Year in the Philippines: From Food to Festivities

Celebrating Chinese New Year in the Philippines: From Food to Festivities

As a kid, I looked forward to only three occasions in a year – my birthday, Christmas and Chinese New Year. As a Filipino-Chinese who grew up in a tight-knit Chinese community in Metro Manila, Chinese New Year is one occasion that's always celebrated with great enthusiasm and reverence.

Food. This is the time where our kitchen is at its busiest, and at the heart of it is my grandmother. She would cook a storm and everyone would be in for a feast. 

One of my favorites is her steamed Lapu-Lapu (grouper) drizzled in sweet soy ginger sauce. “This would help make our year prosperous!” She would tell me in Hokkien. She’d also be busy making fried spring rolls as she believes that it would bring us wealth.

This spring roll dish quickly turned into a Filipino favorite. You’ll find it a staple in parties and is now better known as Lumpiang Shanghai. The day will also not go without her specialty, Kiam pung, which means salty rice.  This glutinous rice is best served with lots of nuts and spring onions on top.

Then comes the crowd favorite, Tikoy or Nián gāo (year cake). This rice cake is made from glutinous rice flour and is the centerpiece of many Filipino Chinese households at Chinese New Year. It comes in different flavors and mango is my favorite. Fun fact about Tikoy- you give them out as a gift only to get another Tikoy in exchange, something like mandarin oranges.

Ang Pao. The red envelope is a custom that everyone practises every Chinese New Year.  I remember how my cousins and I used to eagerly line up in my grandfather’s room cheerfully waiting for our turn to receive our ang pao. I would open it to reveal crisp new bills believed to bring good fortune to the receiver. And, it really doesn’t matter how much is in it, the feeling of being blessed with good luck throughout the year is enough to bring a smile to our little faces.

This quickly became a practice that even non-Chinese adapt to their own culture. A good thing to note in deciding how much to give- to ensure luck ensues, it must always be an even number (:

Lion Dance. After a hearty meal, everyone heads out to watch the much-awaited lion dance. The dance is one of the most important traditions during Chinese New Year. It is said to bring good luck and prosperity, and is often accompanied by thundering gongs, clashing cymbals, and the thrilling sound of drum beats.

The person inside the vibrant and colorful costume mimics the movements of a lion with uncanny grace. They showcase agility as they perform gravity-defying movements much to the delight of onlookers.

And to me, they're the real stars. They seem like kung fu experts with the way they move and glide across the street. I remember being so scared of them back when I was a kid, but my fear quickly turned into admiration throughout the years.

Binondo, Manila's Chinatown. Photo: Miguel Nacianceno

Binondo. Known as the oldest Chinatown in the world, this is where the magic truly happens. Thousands of Filipinos and Filipino-Chinese flock to this place and celebrate. The spirit of the festivities comes alive as soon as you get past the Arc of Goodwill.

Vendors scatter left right and center, from tikoy stalls to those selling jade., each offering you a symbol of luck. You know you’re in for a treat when you hear the crescendo of drumbeats even at a distance. Belts of firecrackers are everywhere signaling the explosive start of the year. They are then lit up in the hopes of warding off evil spirits.

As you walk through hordes of festival goers, you instantly feel a sense of oneness; no matter what heritage you belong to.

Read more about Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown in our handy guide here

Family. Chinese New Year is the time of year that shows the marriage of two equally remarkable cultures. Every year that we celebrate the festive event we are reminded of how special the bond is between the Filipino and Filipino-Chinese community.

Though both have different backgrounds and beliefs, the celebration brings everyone together like family. 

I have learned through the years, that the spirit of Chinese New Year remains alive not because of the food or place. It always comes down to the people we celebrate it with. 

I consider myself lucky to have been blessed with such a wonderful family , and that’s all the luck I wish to have every year. 

Kiong Hee Huat Tsai everyone! Here’s to hoping you get all the luck and good fortune this 2020!

Anton Amoncio is the winner of the Asian Food Channel's Food Hero competition back in 2016, and is a Filipino chef and restaurateur. He loves one thing more than cooking, and that is to eat. He is an avid gamer, and he loves to sing while cooking.

For more delicious recommendations and recipes on Chinese New Year, see our Chinese New Year 2020 page. 

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