Taste Test

Amber, Arny-Dading, Lola Nena’s, and More: We Feast on 5 Brands of Pichi-Pichi

December 31, 2018

Within the world of Filipino kakanin—traditional confections often made with rice or other starches—is pichi-pichi, a cassava-based traditional snack that can be had rolled in grated cheese or coconut. Chewy and mildly sweet, it proves to be a favorite among Filipinos of all ages, being especially popular an option as meryenda or dessert for potlucks and gatherings. In Manila, you’ll find a number of chains that allow you to indulge in pichi-pichi goodness at your own convenience. How do they compare?

Note: For this taste test, we opted to compare each brand’s pichi-pichi with cheese.

Amber

This potluck favorite goes for pichi-pichi with just a touch of brown sugary goodness and the right amount of chew. | PHP 78/12pcs

Perhaps the most popular of the bunch, Amber’s pichi-pichi comes as balls covered with cheese of the firm, salty but creamy-tasting sort across the entire surface area. The pichi-pichi within are just slightly soft and gelatinous (possibly due to the addition of lye water) but offer enough resistance to give the right amount of chew, with a texture right smack dab being smooth and somewhat mottled and fibrous. It’s sweet in such a way that contrasts beautifully with the cheese, carrying a mildly arnibal (brown sugar syrup)-tinged, kuchinta-like profile with the earthiness of cassava underneath.

Sweetness: 3.5/5 | Saltiness: 3.5/5 | Firmness: 3/5

Arny-Dading’s

You get a generous amount of cheese on Arny-Dading’s version, amusingly spelled out as “peachy-peachy”. | PHP 85/10pcs

This Malabon favorite goes for bigger pieces hugged by generous, long strands of cheese that’s a tad salty with a slightly sweet finish. Underneath, the pichi-pichi carries a firmer, denser consistency that’s still within the range of being soft, but sticks to the teeth as you chew. Mid-level in sweetness, it goes for a less-caramelized profile, its cassava flavor brought out beautifully by what seems to be a hint of pandan in the mix.

Sweetness: 3/5 | Saltiness: 3/5 | Firmness: 4/5

Dedet’s

The cheese here comes so creamy, we’ve experienced it melt on the pichi-pichi after having had the styro box sit out in the sun for a few hours! (This pichi-pichi’s great chilled, too.) | PHP 60/10pcs

This sole independent, home-based player in the lineup offers a distinctive take on pichi-pichi. It’s goopy and especially supple, akin to slightly mottled, less-jellified Jell-O, that the pieces practically meld into one another and require a spoon to be lifted out of the container. It just about melts on the tongue with little need for chewing, its barely-there sweetness allowing the earthiness of fresh cassava to come through and ending on a slightly bitter note that’s not unpleasant. The balls come topped with cheese that mirrors the cassava interior’s mild-tasting character, being more creamy than it is salty—and making for an overall lighter, more mellow pichi-pichi experience that has us hooked.

Sweetness: 2/5 | Saltiness: 2/5 | Firmness: 2/5

Don Benito’s

Don Benito’s can feel too firm and could use more cassava flavor, but you nonetheless get the winning combo of salty and sweet. | PHP 70/10pcs

Perhaps the easiest to come by in the city (and beyond), this cassava cake franchise’s version comes as angular blobs with firm, salty cheese bearing a starchy aftertaste. This pichi-pichi is the firmest of the lot, with a gelatinous but stiff and dense consistency that works the teeth. Taste-wise it’s on the sweet side, with little cassava flavor but an especially strong note of pandan (which a member of the team deems to be artificial, but we dig it anyway).

Sweetness: 4/5 | Saltiness: 3.5/5 | Firmness: 5/5

Lola Nena’s

Lola Nena’s stands out for its especially chewy, gelatinous take. | PHP 80/10pcs

Like Arny-Dading’s, Lola Nena’s also gives you large pieces of pichi-pichi which takes on an especially bouncy character, being relatively smooth and making for an especially addictive chew. Its interior comes on the sweeter side, but is balanced out with a relatively dark, more toffee-like (and according to a taster, specifically muscovado sugar-y) undertone which nonetheless allows the flavor of cassava to emerge at the end. The cheese on this brand is a standout, coupling a creamy texture with a mid-level saltiness and a good dairy finish that complements the cassava mix without stealing the spotlight.

Sweetness: 4/5 | Saltiness: 3/5 | Firmness: 3/5

The Verdict: Dedet’s and Lola Nena’s

We were torn in many ways in this battle; save for Don Benito’s (which was bearable, but was not our favorite), each brand’s version appealed for different reasons. Amber and Arny-Dading offer great “textbook” pichi-pichi that hit the right balance between sweet and salty, with the former going for a chewier base and a more brown sugar-y mix and the latter being firmer and more cassava-centric in taste. But it’s the less orthodox versions that ultimately win over our hearts: Dedet’s, with its uniquely supple and mellow-tasting character that emphasizes the clean flavor of the cassava; and Lola Nena’s, given its especially chewy, complex-tasting and more caramelized version and what we deem to be the best-tasting cheese.

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes

Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.

2 comments in this post SHOW

2 responses to “Amber, Arny-Dading, Lola Nena’s, and More: We Feast on 5 Brands of Pichi-Pichi”

  1. JJ says:

    I don’t get how Dedet’s is one of the winners when it has one of the lowest scores?

    • Patricia Baes says:

      Hi JJ! The point system is purely quantitative (as opposed to qualitative), as are the variables on it; ergo, scoring high on saltiness implies an item is very salty, rather than that its saltiness level is highly desirable. It’s not meant to be tallied and is for purely descriptive purposes, more of as a guide (different people have different preferences and knowing which entries are more/less of a certain characteristic can help in selecting or narrowing down which one/s in particular you could go for), than *the* sole determiner of our winner per se. Please let me know if this helps clarify things!

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