Lifestyle, Stories

How was ube hopia invented and what’s the significance?

Written in honor of the Mid-Autumn Festival: October 1, 2020

Can two cultures really coexist with each other such that a match made in heaven is achieved? 

There’s no question that the Chinese and Filipino cultures are worlds apart from each other. 

The former, insomuch as the Han ethnic group is concerned, has been Confucian for the longest time. The latter, if we are to find the unifying factor that unites a lot of places in the Philippines, is rooted in its Spanish and Catholic origins. Indeed, worlds apart. 

However, as a result of being so different, one very unique identity is formed: the Chinese-Filipino identity. Chinoy identity is both Chinese AND Filipino, not just one or the other.

That marriage of two cultures can be seen in the now-famous ube hopia. 

Hopia is of Chinese origin; specifically of overseas Chinese origin, it can only be found in the Philippines and Indonesia. 

But of course, culture adapts! It’s never static. What was once just Chinese — hopia — has evolved to become Chinese AND Filipino: ube-flavored hopia. Here’s how the story of how the ube hopia came about:


Binondo is a haven for Chinoy delicacies

Eng Bee Tin, the famous Binondo-based Chinese deli, traces its roots back to 1912 with businessman Chua Chiu Hong. 

Business was never completely easy. Back in the 1970s, amidst growing competition, Eng Bee Tin’s products — hopia, tikoy, among others — were finding themselves diminishing in the eyes of the market. Business was dying. 

Fortunately, Gerry Chua, a descendant of founder Chua Chiu Hong, found the solution back in the late 1980s. He one day went to a grocery store and asked the salesperson what their most-bought flavor of ice cream was, and it was ube. That small encounter would change the deli’s life — and the entirety of Philippine hopia culture, too.

Gerry Chua then bought jars of ube, added them in with the hopia, and behold, the first ube hopia was born. It truly is a tasty combination of what is Chinese (hopia) and what is loved and very common in the Philippines (ube).

Nowadays, hopias of all flavors — from ube to durian to strawberry to coconut custard to ube langka — are available. Mooncakes, after whom this annual Mooncake Festival is named after, has also seen its own Philippinized versions.


The mooncake has also seen itself Philippinized

Not all of us might like our hopias and mooncakes made of these flavors, and that’s perfectly alright. But it’s worth noting that YES, what is Chinese and what is Filipino can coexist. Not everything has to be about what separates the two. 

The Chinese and Filipino cultures will always, to an extent, be distinct. There will always be stuff that is “more Chinese” and “more Filipino” than others.

But that’s exactly the beauty of it. We rejoice because there are tons of venerable cultural practices worldwide; life would be so boring if everyone were just of the same culture! We don’t have to adopt the good cultural practices of others, for we are of our own culture as well. But what’s important is that where it is good, there should be openness on our part to see that good in others. 

And where the Chinese and Filipino cultures DO coexist, as in the case of the ube hopia and mooncake, well, that’s what we can call Chinoy: not just Chinese, not just Filipino, but Chinese-Filipino. 

Image from Foxy Folksy and Pinoy Cooking Recipes. Article repub image from Eng Bee Tin.


The author of this article: 

An accomplished young Chinese Filipino writer and media personality, Aaron S. Medina is associated with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Ateneo de Manila University Chinese Studies Program, the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, and CHiNOY TV. He has a passion for truth, justice, and Pokémon, too! Follow him on Facebook:

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