The Flavourful Pinoy Noche Buena
The season of gift-giving and merry-making is now. As this most celebrated day began months ago, amid elaborate displays of Christmas ornaments, buying gifts, and setting aside cash gifts in red envelopes, Christmas in the Philippines proves to be the longest with the most festive Christmas meals ever.
From the time the humid tropical weather shifts to a dry, cool one, people in the Philippines crave warming food, especially famous delicacies like Bibingka – fluffy rice pancake custard steamed in a clay pot and traditionally topped with salted egg, sugar, butter, and grated coconut Puto Bumbong, cylindrical glutinous rice, purple yam and coconut sweet steamed in bamboo tubes, Guinataang Bilo-Bilo – sweetened coconut milk porridge with banana, sweet potatoes, yam, gelatin pearls, and sticky cassava, and thick Hot Cocoa made with compressed raw cocoa tablets or “Tablea” rounds.
On the eve itself, when churchgoers return from the midnight mass or Misa de Gallo, the most anticipated feast or Noche Buena is thereby served and ready to be eaten. Plates are then filled with traditional Christmas dishes, which the household matriarchs and their children ardently prepared hours before.
Over the years, the Christmas buffet tables have evolved into a fusion of international-inspired cuisines. However, many have retained the traditional Christmas dishes, which were greatly borne out of the country’s Spanish and Chinese influences like:
Embotido – steamed meatloaf with raisins and vegetables, Sweet Ham, Pancit – stir-fried angel-hair noodles with vegetables and meat, Paella – Spanish fried rice with boiled egg, vegetables, meat and seafood, Pochero – beef stew with banana, Lechon – spit-roasted pig, Quezo de Bola – a ball of Edam cheese, Lumpiang Ubod – mixed carrots, ground pork, lettuce and coconut meat wrapped in spring rolls and served with a sweet and sour sauce, Dinuguan – pork cooked in pork blood and spices that match with slightly sweet Puto rice muffins, other deserts like Leche Flan caramelized egg and milk custard, Turron – fried bananas and jackfruit in spring rolls, Ensaymada – sweet fluffy pastry with grated cheese, Biko – sticky rice and coconut cake, and Brazo de Mercedez – egg custard in white egg meringue rolls.
When the plates are emptied, everyone hovers about the Christmas Tree, and the gift-giving commences.
The flavourful feasts and the high spirit of gift-giving continue until the Feast of the Three Kings in early January, after which all emblems of Christmas are cleared away to make way for the fresh new year and an intense fitness regimen that goes with it.
Have a festive Christmas, everyone!