The Best Philippine Christmas Dishes
Oh Holy Night
A Long Christmas Season
It is reported that Christ in the Philippine Islands begins officially on December 16th each year and lasts through the First Sunday of January. The Philippines has been called the Land of Fiestas and the Christmas Season among the largely Roman Catholic population is likely the biggest fiesta of the year.
One of the major decorations of the Philippines during the long Christmas season is the parol or star lantern, which is made of bamboo into the shape of a stylized star and often lighted.
Music is an important part of the Filipino Christmas Season. Westernized Christmas carols are played in the stores as early in October in Manila another cities, signaling the beginning of the shopping season. However, a sad song begins to play nearer top the official start date. This is known as Pasko na Sinta Ko. At the same time, the parols come out onto the exterior of commercial buildings and homes as well as the interior décor. Parols help to take the place of pine trees that are scare in the islands.
Celebrating With the Parol Star
Parol - The Star of Bethlehem, Traditional In the PhilippinesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Masses and Parols
Christianity predominates in the Philippines and special church services commemorate the Birth of Christ, beginning on December 16th with pre-dawn services.
There are 9 such masses, called Simbang Gabi (night masses) for the nine days before Christmas and Misas de Aguinaldo (gift masses) on December 24th in the evening.
Many Filipinos attend all the early masses at this time. Simbang Gabi is believed to have begun in Mexico, from where missionaries from Spain traveled on to the Philippines in the 1600s and began 4:00 AM masses for the agricultural society that needed to be in the fields at sunrise. Thus, the tradition is 400+ plus years old.
The Christmas Star, symbolized by the parol all over the land and representing the Star of Bethlehem followed by The Three Wise Men in the New Testament if the Bible is everywhere during this time. Banners, buntings, and streamers are also everywhere, indoors and outdoors. Santa Claus is often seen during this season in the Philippines.
Along with the traditional services and decorations of Christmas in the islands, there are the traditional foods.
Breakfast For the Masses
For many, many celebrants at the midnight masses, this is a very simple recipe for the party afterward. Some recipes are more complex and use chicken and duck eggs as well, to form a custard.
- 5.5 Cups rice (or 1 box of rice flour)
- 1 12-oz can coconut milk (divided into 1 cup and ¼ cup)
- 1 pound dark brown sugar
- Banana leaves
- Preheat electric oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cook on the stove top or in a rice cooker.
- In a saucepan, combine the coconut milk and 1 ¼ cups of the brown sugar. Stir.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened (15- 20 minutes).
- Wilt the banana leaves over low heat on an electric stove and use them to line a 13” by 9” baking pan.
- Put rice into a large bowl with 1 cup coconut milk and the rest of the brown sugar, stirring well.
- Place rice mixture into the pan and top with 1/2 cup coconut milk.
- Bake 20 minutes, then broil 5 minutes.
- Cut into squares and serve.
Puto Bumbong [Purple sticky rice steamed in wooden tubes] - see video below
Salabat [Ginger Tea] - see video below.
The Feast After Midnight
Very early on Christmas morning, just after midnight, there is Noche Buena, the tradition of the Good Night or the Night of Goodness.
This night is celebrated with the family and friends, almost like an open house for kids to play and for all to open presents.
Some of the traditional dishes for this night include:
Queso de Bola [Cheese Ball]
Hamon [Christmas Ham]
Kare-Kare [Tripe with Peanut Butter]
- 1 Pound beef tripe
- 3 medium sized eggplants, cut in 1-inch cubes
- 1 bunch of green beans, cut into 1-inch sections
- 1 can of banana flower 1 Cup peanut butter
- 1 medium sized onion, sliced 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- Boil beef tripe in salted water for 2 hours until tender.
- Drain and cut into 2-inch slices.
- In a wok with oil, sauté garlic, and onion, and vegetables for 12 minutes.
- Add peanut butter; stir and cook 10 minutes.
- Add in the tripe into the vegetable mix and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Serve with hot rice and fish sauce.
Lumpia - a complex recipe for spring rolls.
- See accompanying recipes for banana fritters at A Guide to the Banana.
- 2 1/4 cups water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 4 Tablespoons of butter
- 2 Cups of flour
- 3 whole eggs
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Put water, butter, and salt in a pan and boil.
- Add flour and with a wooden spoon stir until you have a firm ball.
- Remove from burner, let cool 15 minutes.
- Put dough in a bowl and mix, adding eggs and beating dough for 5 minutes.
- Put plenty of oil in a boiling pot, so churros will float.
- Heat oil and drop the mix into the oil from a special bag or by the spoonful a few at a time.
- Cook until brown, for about six minutes.
- Take out churros with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel covered with sugar; also sprinkle sugar on top and eat.
© 2008 Patty Inglish MS