It’s already starting to look a lot like Christmas, already on September 1.
PHILIPPINES – A myriad of islands in Southeast Asia that pride themselves on colorful festivities and delicious food all year round. Known for its infamous adobo and lechon, this country is also known for having the longest Christmas season in the world!
As early as September, local residents hung up their Christmas decorations with a series of colorful lanterns called watchword, and shopping malls started playing Christmas carols all day, reminding everyone that the season of giving has officially begun.
The highlight of this four-month celebration is, of course, the Good night (Spanish for good night) – a traditional Christmas Eve party to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It was said that during the Spanish era, brothers asked churchgoers to fast until Christmas morning, but Filipinos would usually be hungry when they returned from the Christmas midnight mass called the “Midnight Mass” in Spanish, or “midnight mass” in Filipino. Therefore, the locals came up with a way to eat small meals before going to bed, giving birth to the tradition of ‘Noche Buena’.
The Noche Buena spread varies from household to household depending on their economic status, but here are five of the common delicacies that are sure to be on everyone’s table:
Bibingka (bee-bing-ka) is a simple Filipino cake made with rice, butter, eggs, sugar, and milk, topped with cheese and salted duck egg, then sprinkled with shredded coconut. Authentic preparation of this holiday rice cake involves soaking the grains overnight and then grinding it, giving it a fluffy and velvety texture that locals enjoy.
The word “bi” is Chinese for rice, so bibingka, biko (sticky rice cake), bihon (rice noodles), and bilo-bilo (sticky rice balls). Historically, bibingka was not spared from further foreign influences. The Spaniards, for example, sprinkled the bibingka with sugar, cheese and butter and sprinkled it with Edam cheese. The Chinese, meanwhile, introduced red salted duck eggs on top of this Filipino staple.
2. Puto Bumbong
Another delicacy that is sold all over the Philippines during simbáng gabi and can be found next to bibingka. Puto bumbong is a purple sticky rice cake made by carefully soaking black glutinous rice (pirurutong) in water and drying overnight.
The dried (almost powdery) rice is then steamed in traditional bamboo tubes, served on a bed of banana leaves with warm butter or margarine and generously sprinkled with coconut flakes and palm sugar (muscovado) granules.
3. Queso De Bola (ball of cheese)
Since cheese is not a staple in Filipino cuisine, having a big ball of cheese on the dinner table during Christmas Eve is considered not only a celebration but also a festive decor.
This round, semi-hard Edam cheese has a salty and nutty taste that is coated with red paraffin, wrapped in the iconic red crinkle plastic. This amazing scoop of cheese is served with jamón (ham) and pandesal (Filipino soft bread) during the Noche Buena.
4. Fruit salad
It’s not until Christmas Eve when the scent of this sweet staple lingers in the kitchen. Filipinos usually make this ahead of time, using fruit cocktails instead of fresh fruit, sweetened with condensed milk and all-purpose cream.
Many households also make this dish extra special for Noche Buena by adding grated fresh coconut to the mix. To make it taste even more festive, some even add diced creamy cheese. This delicious dessert can be enjoyed right away, chilled or even frozen.
The Philippine Christmas ham – the star of the show. For some, a scoop of ham on the table is a status symbol, as it is not affordable and is only served for very special occasions. The boneless ham is the most common ham on the market.
This whole cut of boneless pork is salted in a sweet glaze, giving it a hint of smokiness and more depth of flavor. To make it even more festive, most Filipinos use pineapple chunks, giving it a sweet and tangy fruity glaze!
From Christmas to birthdays and local festivals, Lechon is definitely a mouthwatering centerpiece. Lechon, derived from the Spanish word for “roast suckling pig”, is probably the most popular dish in the country.
Traditionally, whole pigs are marinated in various spices and sauces and then slowly roasted over charcoal for hours. The result? Tender and juicy meat, pork skin as crispy as candy and caramelized to perfection.
7. Milk pie
This creamy and decadent dessert is always a showstopper when done right. Leche Flan is a simple dessert made with egg yolk, sugar, condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Easy to prepare, anyone can prepare this delicious dessert any time of the day. That’s why lolas (grandmothers) used to make it so they can chill it in the fridge just in time for celebrations like parties, parties and Good night.
Leche flan is usually steamed in an oval can shape known as a llanera, over an open fire or stovetop, although it can sometimes be fried.
Beef Morcon is a classic Filipino Christmas dish and is usually served only for Noche Buena and on special occasions. This delicious dish is simply a Filipino meat (beef) sandwich filled with Chorizo de Bilbao or hot dog, carrot, pickle, cheese and egg. Inexpensive cuts of beef can be used to make this main course, as cooking requires hours of braising in a tomato-based sauce.
The painstaking process of Morcon begins by laying the meat flat on a cutting board or table and then mashing it until it reaches the desired thickness. The beef is then marinated for a minimum of two hours in soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns, and calamansi or lime. After everything is tied together with kitchen twine, the beef rolls are transferred to a pot to simmer until cooked through.
9. Macaroni Salad
This creamy, tangy and refreshing side dish is always present in the Noche Buena spread. With just the right amount of sweetness, this Philippine version of the chicken macaroni salad can be gobbled up while waiting for the mains to cook.
The locals enjoy this dish with cheese, eggs, sauce, pineapple and creamy mayonnaise and condensed milk. Some add raisins, carrots, onions and even ham!
10. Pasta Dishes: Filipino Spaghetti and Pancit
Of course it is not a party without a main course (or dishes). Filipinos love their sweet version of spaghetti which is made with a mix of tomato sauce, banana ketchup and condensed milk. This bright red, sweet spaghetti is usually made with ground beef and hot dogs.
In the Philippines, people can buy packaged spaghetti sauce at the grocery store or make it from scratch. Don’t knock it until you try!
Pancit is almost always present in the Noche Buena. There are dozens of different variations of pancit with many interpretations, each originating from particular regions of the Philippines. Sometimes the name of the dish depends on the province it comes from (e.g. pancit Bato or Bicol), or it also depends on the type of noodles used: lo mein, vermicelli, egg noodles, rice noodles, the list is endless .
“Pancit bihon” means rice noodles, while “Pancit canton” means egg noodles. There are numerous versions of pancit; every family makes it different, but the most common ingredients in a pancit dish are a mix of thinly sliced meat, usually chicken, and vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, and green beans, then topped with lemon juice, scallions, and hard-boiled eggs to to give it a more festive look.
Related: Most Popular Filipino Dishes
Related: Most Popular Filipino Desserts