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