Kakanin: A Must-Try Filipino Delicacy

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“I love kakanin!” is probably a sentence you can expect to hear from most Filipinos. What Filipino hasn’t experienced chasing after a kakanin vendor after spotting his cart of different kinds of kakanin? Although you can probably do a kakanin online order nowadays, it’s just not the same.

Anyway, if you’re wondering why kakanin is famous in the Philippines, it’s because these delicacies remind us of simpler times. Also, it’s because kakanin are just comforting to eat after a long day at work, especially with piping hot coffee. They’re also a constant presence during celebrations and special occasions.

Even foreigners enjoy these delicacies. According to this article, kakanin has been spotted in the dessert section of buffets of leading food venues in the Philippines. That only confirms that whether as snacks or dessert after a big meal, all kinds of kakanin are a must-eat treat. But what exactly is kakanin?

buffet the bailiwick academy
Different kinds of kakanin with other Filipino desserts at a buffet. Photo by Lai de Guzman.

Kakanin: What is the meaning?

Kakanin is an umbrella term for any glutinous rice or sticky rice cake. It’s sticky and sweet rice, not the normal steamed rice. Yes, kakanin in English is rice cake. You might get strange looks though if you ask to purchase rice cake from your local kakanin vendor.

If you’re wondering where did kakanin originate, there’s no real answer. What we do know is that each part of the Philippines has its own version of it. Apparently, our ancestors created these sticky cakes to serve as offerings to pre-colonial gods and/or as gifts to guests and visitors. This is the kakanin history, as told by this Pepper.ph article.  

According to various cooking and history books, the term comes from the word “kanin”, which is Filipino for rice. Since Filipinos love rice (hello to all the places that offer unlimited rice), and there’s a lot of rice in this country, the people that came before us were able to discover various ways to prepare sticky rice.

Different kakanin have different ingredients. They vary in the region of their origins. However, they are all generally made with glutinous rice and milk and involve being wrapped in leaves. Ingredients may include condensed milk, coconut meat, sesame seeds, and so on. Toppings may include brown or white sugar, salted egg, grated coconut, or cassava. You can steam or bake these sticky treats.

A list of kakanin examples

1. Bibingka

bibingka the bailiwick academy kakanin

One well-known Xmas kakanin is the bibingka. It is different from the “bibingkang malagkit” or sticky bibingka, in case you have heard of it. You know it’s almost Christmas season when vendors on the streets and restaurants and hotels start selling bibingka. The traditional way of cooking bibingka is via a bibingka oven (hence the name). According to this recipe, the bibingka mixture is composed of galapong (milled glutinous rice), coconut milk, margarine, and sugar. You can top it with white cheese and salted eggs. As an added treat, you can even mix the salted eggs and white cheese into the mixture itself. When you cut the bibingka open, hello eggs and cheese! It’s a guaranteed yummy treat. 

2. Suman

suman the bailiwick academy kakanin

Another kakanin in the Philippines is the suman. Again, there may be many variations depending on where you are, but suman is generally made from glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk and sugar and wrapped tightly in palm or banana leaves, and then steamed. You can eat it by itself, or put sugar on it or dip it in sugar. Some also eat it with ripe mango pieces for an even sweeter treat. Variations of suman include suman sa lihiya, suman sa ibos, suman pinipig, black rice suman, and suman budbud.

3. Puto – kakanin mother

puto the bailiwick academy

If you’re wondering “Is puto a kakanin?”, wonder no more! According to Spot.ph, puto is the mother of all kakanin. It’s a rice cake that is porous and steamed. We can also attest that it’s very heavy in the stomach when eaten! Puto is usually round but some people cut them differently. Puto is also usually white but can come in different colors like purple, green, and yellow. We must admit that the food coloring makes the puto more attractive! You usually top puto with cheese, but some make variants like putting salted eggs on top instead. 

4. Puto bumbong

puto bumbong the bailiwick academy

Puto bumbong is another popular Christmas kakanin. Vendors usually sell these alongside bibingka during simbang gabi. Why is this kakanin violet? It’s not because of ube. According to this Spot.ph article, puto bumbong is made from a violet-colored rice mixture. The maker then pours the mixture into thin bamboo tubes, then steamed. It’s like a puto, but it has a different shape and texture. Vendors or sellers usually present puto bumbong on banana leaves and cover them with butter or margarine, coconut shavings, and muscovado sugar. You should eat it hot especially in the cold mornings after mass. Try eating it with hot coffee or hot chocolate. We’d personally consider this as a Filipino dessert!

5. Chocolate moron

chocolate moron the bailiwick academy kakanin

Before you ask, no, it’s not the same as the term for “stupid person”. It’s a Filipino kakanin that is almost the same as a suman, according to The Skinny Pot. They’re both wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. However, the moron consists of rice flour, chocolate, vanilla, and milk. The chocolate is the one that really makes it different from the suman. Some even add nuts for a different, more crunchy texture. It’s more prevalent in the Visayas, sold in tourist centers, and part of local festivities. You should try eating these chocolate morons with coffee. It’s a very delicious experience! 

6. Palitaw

palitaw the bailiwick academy

Think of this Pinoy kakanin as rice balls being flattened into cookie-like shapes. That’s the appearance of palitaw. According to this article, palitaw is made by washing, soaking, and grounding sticky rice. You’ll have a batter, which you scoop up and place in boiling water. The scoops flatten up and return to the surface, all flattened. As Kawaling Pinoy says, their name is from the Filipino root word “litaw” or “to surface”. One usually finishes palitaw with grated coconut, sesame seeds, and muscovado sugar. From experience, it is also dense like puto, so a few servings of this will make you feel full immediately. 

7. Sapin-sapin 

sapin sapin the bailiwick academy
Photo by Risa Casambros. Taken from Flickr.

This is one very colorful Pinoy dessert or snack. According to Esquire, this kakanin originated from Abra, whose people descended from the Tingguran tribe in Ilocos. This particular tribe’s specialty involves woven blankets and baskets. And the name “sapin-sapin” refers to blankets and layers, which is the appearance of this kakanin cake. One makes traditional sapin-sapin using sticky rice dough, coconut milk, and sugar (like everything on this list, hehe). The dough is then split into three parts and colors: the violet color on top is made from ube or purple yam; the middle white part is coconut; and the kakanin yellow color is jackfruit. You usually top off sapin-sapin with latik or toasted coconut flakes. Stores in malls or supermarkets also sell sapin-sapin, but based on experience, commercial sapin-sapin have no flavoring. Best to try the traditionally made ones!

8. Kutsinta

kutsinta the bailiwick academy
The usual kutsinta.
black kutsinta the bailiwick academy
Black kutsinta. Photo by Derrick Lim.

According to this article, kutsinta is a kakanin one makes from steaming rice flour, lye water, brown sugar, atsuete or food coloring, and grated coconut. For us, this is one of the more popular types of kakanin Pinoy. Not only is it present during parties, birthdays, and other occasions, you can also see kutsinta being sold on the streets during merienda hours. You can eat kutsinta for either merienda or breakfast. It has a nice, gelatinous texture and has just the right amount of sweetness, making it a joy to eat. As a testament to its prevalence, during the pandemic, a variant black kutsinta rose in popularity. While you usually top kutsinta with coconut shavings, you eat black kutsinta with caramel sauce and toasted coconut. 

9. Maja blanca kakanin

maja blanca the bailiwick academy
Photo by Slice of Life MNL.

Maja blanca is basically a coconut pudding that one cuts into rectangles or squares, topped with toasted coconut. It’s actually similar to panna cotta. Variants of the kakanin maja blanca can involve the use of corn, cheese, ube, and pandan. Again, different regions of the Philippines mean different preparation processes. According to this recipe, some include cornstarch diluted in water or canned evaporated milk. This makes the maja blanca thicker and helps it set faster. Some even add condensed milk instead of sugar which makes it milkier and sweeter. What’s definitely sure is that maja blanca makes regular appearances during birthdays, fiestas, and snack times. It feels very light on the stomach, so you’ll be sure to get more than one piece.

10. Cassava cake (not a kakanin, technically)

cassava cake the bailiwick academy kakanin

This is one on the list that’s not made of sticky or glutinous rice but is still considered as kakanin.  According to Juan Kakanin, cassava cake is made with freshly grated cassava, eggs, coconut milk, and sugar. It is topped with melted cheese. You normally bake cassava cake in round leche flan tin molds, so it’s usually round, but there have been appearances of square or rectangular ones. If you’re looking for unique cake recipes or dessert recipes, you should definitely check out the cassava cake. And if you’re wondering if “Is kakanin a dessert?”, this one is. It is available commercially but if you feel like making your own, there are plenty of cassava kakanin recipes available. Eating this creamy, soft, and cheesy cake will make you crave for more!

There are more kinds of kakanin out there!

These are just a few that we have seen and tasted. This list is by no means a comprehensive one. As we said above, there are many different kinds of kakanin all over the Philippines. You’ll also find out that Pinoy kakanin names may change depending on where you are at the moment. For example, if you buy suman in Antipolo, you’ll see that it is different from the suman you buy in Mindanao (Mindanao suman is called “dodol”). Try to discover all the others, and see which one ends up as the one you consider the best kakanin!

Speaking of kakanin, how to make them, you ask? Well, The Bailiwick Academy has a new Kakanin online class by Chef Chona Garcia Laureta. If you want to produce your own, what better way than by enrolling in this class? You’ll get to make five different kinds. And because Chef Chona modified the Pinoy kakanin recipes to add a modern take, you can be sure that you’ll be making kakanin with a twist. Follow each winning, easy-to-follow kakanin recipe, and you’ll have no problem producing your own delicious Pinoy dessert!

Check out this video about the Kakanin class!

And since it’s a new class, it also has an introductory rate until June 13, 2021. It’s a deal that you cannot miss.

Say good-bye to searching “kakanin near me” or “kakanin where to buy” when you’re craving. Click here to enroll in Chef Chona’s class now!

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