What do Filipinos have for noche buena?
A family-centered feast
One of the best ways to enjoy life and the people you care about is through food, and Filipinos the world over imbibe this truth especially during the Christmas holidays. What with Christmas just around the corner, I thought of writing about one of the highlights of the season: the noche buena.
As per Cambridge Dictionary, nochebuena literally translates to Christmas Eve in Spanish. Here in the Philippines, it is known as the meal you relish with family after the Christmas Eve mass. According to Serna Estrella’s article in pepper.ph, this is a custom we picked up from when Spain colonized the Philippines centuries ago. The lateness of the feast was a necessity because early Filipino Christians were expected to fast until Christmas morning, or at least until after the Christmas Eve mass called Misa de Aguinaldo.
A bit of history
I tried to learn more about the history of the tradition of noche buenas past, and popular historian Ambeth Ocampo’s Inquirer columns immediately came to mind. In his December 26, 2013 column, he mentions a book published in 1898 entitled “Yesterdays in the Philippines.” The book talks about the Philippines through the lens of its American author, James Earle Stevens.
Surprised to find the cosmopolitan variety of gastronomic fare available, Stevens mentioned that it was possible to find a smorgasbord of Filipino, Chinese, Spanish, and even French treats on a typical Christmas Eve table in Manila. Dining out one time, he also mentioned feasting on hors d’oeuvres, mince pies, plum puddings, and other such foreign delicacies.
Perusing other sources, I came across a Philippine news resource curated by Filipinos living abroad. Mabuhay Radio has this extensive article about how Filipinos reinvented Christmas, and it lists down more overseas food selections that corroborates the observation of Stevens about the variety of dishes in our shores. Filipinos, the aforementioned article says, integrated influences from India, Thailand, and Vietnam into their cuisine and eventually their noche buena fare. (Go read the article if you have the time; it’s pretty informative!)
Pinoy noche buena staples
Nowadays, what a Filipino family has for noche buena really depends on each household’s preferences as well as the region where they’re located. You can basically serve whatever feels right. For the most part, however, the traditional anchors of most Filipino Christmas meals include the following:
For some reason, I’m used to calling this staple “Fiesta ham.” I have yet to decide whether this is proof of the marketing prowess of a certain ham brand. Christmas ham is usually sweet and pineapple-glazed. There are also smoked, salty, and Chinese-style variants. The most popular ones include those sold by Majestic, Excellente, and Adelina’s. Majestic is found in larger grocery stores; I believe the latter two are found in Chinatown and Quiapo.
Queso de bola
A round-shaped cheese coated in red paraffin originating from the city of Edam in Holland. Most of the queso de bolas I’ve sampled in the past were tasty, slightly salty, but dry. They make a perfect accompaniment to sweet ham. This type of cheese is readily available especially during the holidays. Marca Piña, Magnolia, and Marca Pato are the most ubiquitous brands that come to mind.
Bibingka and puto bumbong
Bibingka is a rice cake sold wherever native delicacies are. Puto bumbong, on the other hand, is a purple-colored dessert made of steamed glutinous rice inserted in small bamboo tubes. They become in demand especially during the Christmas season where they’re enjoyed after the nine-day Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster) masses. They’re both served with muscovado sugar, butter, and coconut shreds and are best served warm.
Are you familiar with any of the above? What are some of the most popular Christmas treats in your country? What are your favorite Christmas dishes? 🙂
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