Hopia, also known as unity cake, is a Chinese pastry that’s been around since the 20th century. Brought into the country by Fujian immigrants, hopia either has a flaky, puff pastry exterior or a cake-dough type one. Both of which are baked and sold by Ho-Land Hopia & Bakery, located right in the heart of Binondo, the oldest Chinatown in the world.

Like most businesses, Ho-Land Hopia started in the family.

“Actually, my grandfather started the whole business. It started around the 1960s then he just picked the name–Ho. Then from there on, HoLand is known for its hopia and Chinese delicacies,” Fawn Justin Go, current manager of the bakery shares.For Go, what sets their hopia apart from other brands is its authenticity. From its ingredients to how it is made and packed, everything is made according to the original recipe which has been passed down through generations.

To stress how traditional their recipe is, their hopia has zero preservatives and their bakers were trained through apprenticeship. Customarily, it was even their own fathers who taught the bakers, much like how they learned the recipe. Even technology has not successfully lured them away from their roots and up to today, their hopia is still baked in a charcoal-fueled pugon (baking furnace) right above their flagship store.

With 6 branches spread across Metro Manila, Ho-Land Hopia has no signs of slowing down. In fact, Go hints at two more possible branches that will be located inside malls.

“I hope for expanding around Philippines. But actually, slowly, we are easing our way in. It’s not that easy, but it’s possible,” says Go.

While franchising is a surefire way to speed up expansion, Go says that they prefer to keep it close in the family by having their branches run by relatives. Perhaps, their family-centric philosophy is also another way of keeping the tradition alive.

Ho means ‘good’, –pia means ‘pastry’ so in short, Ho-Land is known for ‘hopia land’,” Go says.

It’s no wonder that Filipinos love to eat and for Go, he thinks it is one of the reasons why hopia and other Chinese delicacies are popular in the Philippines. No matter what the reason, their store should be the only proof anyone needs. For one, they never seem to run out of customers from the moment their doors open until they close for the day.

Every day, their hopia is baked fresh and sold the same day. Because it is sans preservatives, it can only last up to a week unrefrigerated. Go suggests storing them inside the refrigerator or freezer to prolong its shelf life. Oddly enough, it could be the cold temperature that enriches the hopia’s flavor.

“Sometimes, some customers like to eat it cold. So let’s say our custard flavor and pandan flavor, masarap siya `pag kinakain nang malamig,” says Go.

But for those who prefer their hopia a little hot, Go shares another unique way to enjoy the pastry which he found out from his mom and aunt—pan-seared with butter.

However way you want it, hopia is undoubtedly more than just a pastry. Food trends come and go, but hopia has become a staple especially during Chinese New Year. Why is it popular? The answer may be forever unknown, but perhaps the answer lies in its name.

According to legend, it was made to unify two warring brothers who came home with flour and brown sugar for their mother who invented the unity cake or hopia. It could also just be the flavor, but maybe we also appreciate the harmony it stands for. No war, no fight. Just a pastry that brings us all together every Chinese New Year. — HELEN HERNANE


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