8 Traditional Dishes That Mark the Pinoy Christmas
8. Puto Bumbong
Ushering the start of simbang gabi or the traditional misa de gallo is the huff puffing of steam coming from the puto bumbong cylindrical bamboo steamers outside churches. The puto bumbong is made of pirurutong, that’s glutinous rice that has a distinctly violet color. This sticky kakanin is livened up by brushing with a generous dollop of margarine or butter and heaped with freshly grated coconut and brown sugar or originally with crumbled panutsa. Munching on puto bumbong while sipping a steaming hot cup of salabat will be a nice accompaniment to gooey eyed lovers whispering sweet nothings on a cold December morning.
While others enjoy the inseparable puto bumbong and salabat, some are avid bibingka lovers on cold December mornings. Side by side with the tube steamers are the traditional clay pots coal fired top and bottom with the bibingka slowly being cooked. Although the bibingkang galapong is now being cooked in ovens, nothing compares to the traditional way of cooking this. The original favoured topping for the bibingka is salted duck egg. Today there are a variety of fancy toppings such as queso de bola or kesong puti. When cooked the traditional way, the slightly burnt flavor combined with the saltiness of the duck egg, the creaminess of the butter and the sweetness from the sugar and coconut is a heady mix. Tempered with the spicy minty salabat the combination makes for a heart warming treat.
“Chesnuts roasting on a open fire”… as the song goes heralds the Christmas season in the country. Soon as I smell roasting castanas over hot small pebbles in supermarkets and tiangges, even if it’s not Christmas, mind you, I just sense Christmas is in the air. There is something about that inviting smell that makes one long for a crack and a bite of the nut. For some first time tasters though, they liken the taste of the chestnut to the camote (our local yam) which I find so funny. For me the Christmassy slightly magical feel of eating chestnuts cannot compare to chomping on roasted camote, the musical fruit.
A Christmas spread is not complete without serving slices of sweet salty ham. There is a variety of ham that is available soon as Christmas carols resound in the airwaves. There are as many shapes as prices for one to choose from. There is Excelente Ham which has been in the market since the early ’60s, available in Carlos Palanca, Quiapo. As the brand name suggests, the excellent taste of the ham is still sought after by many. Another equally famous and not to be outdone brand is Majestic ham, now available all year round in many supermarkets. It is as the name indicates regal in taste hence still an all time favorite of many. There is also Adelina’s Ham available in the Mandaluyong area. With its competitive price yet superb taste, the pride of Adelina made quite a mark in this very discriminating niche market. Then of course there are the commercial hams which are very affordable and for the price, delish and enticing as well.
4. Queso de Bola
The proverbial ham is wanting without the proverbial queso de bola on a Christmas table. These two seem to be inseparable. There are two brands that reverberate during the yuletide season, Marca Pina and Pato. The edam cheese balls available to us are aged , light yellow colored, slightly sharp nutty-flavored and coated in red paraffin wax. You will also enjoy eating queso de bola with a slice of ham sandwiched in a hot pandesal. If you wish to be chic try pairing the queso de bola with some walnuts and grapes. Years ago (please don’t ask me how long ago) my father and I would travel all the way to Quiapo to get a hold of the authentic queso de bola packaged in a round red tin can. My memory fails me with the brand name but I do recall that it was imported from the Netherlands. So much for history…Commercial brands abound during the season too, these are regular cheddar cheese packaged into balls. Be it the authentic or the faux, it won’t matter much so long as dinner is spent with the whole family.
3. Chicken Relleno
Stuffed turkey is to Thanksgiving as Chicken Relleno (or Chicken Galantina) is to our Christmas celebration. A deboned stuffed chicken is quite a feast to the eyes and a very welcome addition to our hearty Christmas fare. Although some settle for embotido which is also party fare, the Chicken Relleno has a more impressive and regal presentation for this momentous celebration. The delectable combination of the chicken meat still intact in the deboned chicken plus the stuffing of ground pork, savory chorizo de bilbao, chopped ham, chopped Vienna sausage, pickles, carrots, red and green bell pepper, raisins, boiled eggs and seasoned with salt and pepper makes this dish quite memorable. Once baked, cooled down and cut, sauce from the drippings is mixed with some cornstarch and a bit of soy sauce. If the Chicken Relleno is cut the sauce is drizzled on top of the slices. If it is served whole, the sauce may be served on the side. Leftovers kept in the refrigerator may be pan fried before serving the next day and served with some garlic laden sinangag. This is if you still have leftovers of course.
2. Arroz Valenciana
Arroz Valenciana heightens the festive look of any extensive party spread. This rice dish is a combination of long grain rice and glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk and seasoned with paprika. This hefty rice dish boasts of loads of chicken, chorizo de bilbao, sweet red pepper slivers, green peas, potatoes wedges and raisins. The reddish color of the dish is heighted by adding some tomato paste. This scrumptious rice dish is very enticing, one bite and you will surely be asking for more. This is a complete dish by itself.
1. Fruit Salad
A Christmas lunch or dinner without a dessert feels incomplete. The best dessert to cap a hearty Christmas meal will be a Fruit Salad. In my case I use imported fruit cocktail, mix it with green nata de coco, red kaong (for that Christmas touch), add some red juicy apple soaked in lemon and cut into cubes, throw in some fresh seedless grapes, put some more peach slices if you wish and more bottled cherries, should you like. Herewith is my complete fruit salad recipe that has a creamy candied caramel like flavor which I’m sure your family will love.
1 big can fruit cocktail
1 med size bottle Red Kaong
1 med size bottle Green Nata de Coco
1 red apple, unpeeled and soaked in lemon and cut into cubes
A handful of fresh seedless grapes
Peach slices (optional)
1 block cream cheese, softened
1 Tetra Pak brick All Purpose Cream, chilled
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 small can condensed milk, cold
Combine the last 4 ingredients. Using a food processor or a blender, mix well until smooth. Add the mixture to the rest of the ingredients.