I like physical activity so climbing the stairs, although it was tiring, was fun for me. So was the plane ride, and the boat ride. But I didn’t expect this kind of reward.
When we reached the top of the staircase, what met us was breathtaking. So, this is what’s on the other side?
I felt like I was Poh of Kung Fu Panda after climbing that high wall (although my tiredness may be way less). After that last step, it’s like I just pulled the curtains to a different world.
“Hello lovely village. Thank you for the invitation to be here.”
The first thing that you’ll notice is the breathtaking view of the river, the fields and the mountains behind you. Then moving forward, there’s the basketball court (very Filipino!) and the village houses.
After a couple of steps from the basketball court, we get to our abode. Boy, it’s big. This is where they have their guests stay. I feel like royalty. Aren’t we supposed to be suffering when we’re on outreach?
So yeah, now that we’re all set up! We’ll go around the village next.
Last April 22, 2017, my friend and I took a 10-hour bus ride to Tuguegarao City up Northeast of the Philippines. From Tuguegarao Airport, we waited 5 hours for a 45-minute, 20-seater flight to Palanan Valley in Isabela Province. We were early and the plane was 4 hours late.
Palanan is not a popular travel destination, more so the village we went to. I was jobless with savings slowly draining away. What on earth was in Palanan that we were ready to get Php 8,000 (almost US$200) poorer and some backaches richer just to be there?
How do you celebrate Christmas on your side of the globe? Here in the Philippines, the first thing that comes to mind when you say the word “Christmas,” is “Noche Buena” or the “Noche Buena” meal. (I’d like to say it’s also “for the children” and “Jesus” and “Christmas cheer” but culturally speaking it’s this midnight meal that sets Filipino Christmas part.)
Noche Buena means “Christmas Eve,” but to a Filipino, it’s the short cut for “Noche buena meal” or the festive meal we eat when the clock strikes 12:00 on the eve of Christmas. How does a Noche Buena meal look like? For different families, it may look slightly different but for every family, except for an exceptional few, it will probably have at least one of these dishes that Filipinos can’t live without during Christmas!
Disclaimer: We don’t and didn’t have all these last night. We just had a last minute prep for ham, bread and local (Batangas) hot chocolate. Plus puto bungbong and bibingka. 🙂
#1 Chinese (how come not Filipino?) Ham
No, this is not an sponsored post for Pure Foods. And yes, Chinese ham is a Filipino Noche Buena (which is a Spanish phrase by the way) dish! There are different kinds and qualities of ham during Christmas. It ranges from huge, expensive ones at P4,000+ (US$100) to small, affordable hams at less than P200 ($5) ! When I still worked as a full time employee for a company, our office would give us a grocery basket with supplies like spaghetti sauce, noodles, fruit cocktail, heavy cream, cheese, among others. Then, they also give us one honey glazed ham, which I loved!
If you dont’ have sensitive taste buds, any ham will do, as long as it’s ham, it feels like Christmas. My family (me especially) loves this “fried” and served with bread. Yum yum!
#2 Bibingka and Puto Bungbong
Aaaaah, these two do not necessarily make their first appearance on Christmas Eve; these are the perfect match for Simbang Gabi’s or midnight masses, which many Filipinos attend each morning (dawn) beginning December 16 until the eve of December 25! Traditionally, we buy it outside church, and both can be seen being sold together. This year, we had a hard time looking for vendors. It’s kind of sad. I miss the yummy bibingka (rice cake) and puto bungbong (another kind of rice cake?) to match… There seem to be not translation for puto bungbong but glosbe.com defines it as “A purple-colored dessert made of rice cooked in bamboo tubes.” lolz. Bibingka tastes wonderful with thin slices of salted egg, white cheese, butter and sugar on top. You have to try it to understand what I mean. On the other hand, puto bungbong tastes bland as rice without the niyog (grated coconut) and sugar on top. It’s also glazed with butter before adding the toppings.
#4 Suman Salihiya aka Suman con Latik (and any kind of suman for that matter)
This, for me is nostalgic. My grandaunt who passed away years ago used to make the perfect Suman Salihiya (sticky rice… Are we seeing a trend here???). Salihiya is the oiled banana leaf in which it is wrapped. Suman Salihiya is not complete without the perfect latik (coconut sauce?). Latik, much like KFC’s gravy is to their chicken, can ruin the combination if it’s not deliciously made. Even after I’m done with the suman, I still lick the latik on the fork, the plate and my fingers. Yummm! I don’t like the latik that goes with most commercially made suman. Ugggh, nothing tastes like homemade latik.
#5 Fruit Salad
My mom makes the bestest fruit salad in the world. Shameless boast! She does! And she used to make the best embutido too! But we didn’t cook embutido this Christmas. The fruit salad, however, is to die for and we still have it every year. By the way, Filipino fruit salad is creamy and not dry compared to continental fruit salad, alright?
Tell you what, I’ll give you her perfect combination recipe right here:
1 huge Today fruit cocktail (not a sponsored post of Today either but this is the one we buy ‘coz it’s affordable! I don’t know how many ounces but the can is bigger than a paint can but smaller than a pail!)
1 brick (tetra pack) Nestle Cream
2 cans Nestle Cream
1 can Milkmaid Condensed Milk (I cannot vouch for the perfect outcome if you don’t use Milkmaid but feel free to experiment)
Grated buko (1 or 2 buko – it depends if you get a lot from one buko/coconut husk)
Now, first step is to drain the fruit cocktail overnight. This is perhaps the most crucial part of the recipe because if you don’t have it well drained, your salad will be watery and this will ruin the taste and the consistency!
Then mix the milk and cream altogether, add the DRAINED fruit cocktail and mix! No need for sugar. Add grated cheese if you feel like having an unHEALTHY snack (health buff speaking here) and add the drained buko strips. Yay! Chill or freeze. And yes, don’t fight over the cherries but divide them fairly if there’s a scarcity of them reds.
#3 Hamonado (also a kind of ham but with a special surprise inside)
This one is nostalgic too because I haven’t tasted the addicting flavor of hamonado since my grandmother stopped making these. This is ham with an added something inside — sometimes egg and/or hotdog. And the sauce is sweet like a mix of pineapple juice and caramel. My relatives on my father’s side are pretty good cooks and until now I am praying someone from that side would teach me. Sigh.
I love you Nanay, you make the best hamonado! (My grandmom passed away years ago too.)
Did anybody say pansit? Pansit is, of course, noodles. Another thing we got from the Chinese! Pansit is part of Christmas because it’s part of each and every Filipino celebration. LOL. Even non-celebrations…! Does anyone here eat pansit everyday or at least every time you go to Chowking fastfood resto? Haha.
#5 Lechon (de Leche)
Oh yes, I put lechon last not because it’s the most present in every Noche Buena but because not every home can afford to have this on Christmas Eve. So if you have lechon on Christmas or better yet Lechon de Leche (the young/baby roasted pig) then you are super blessed. I love the crispy skin of lechon. Who doesn’t??? And I overload the meat with Mang Tomas sauce because I like it tasty just like that. If there are leftovers from last night’s lechon, we cook it in the (Mang Tomas) sauce and turn it into a saucy dish called Lechon Paksiw, which I love even more!
So there you go. Those are but a few of our favorite Filipino dishes during Christmas! It’s not limited to that though! We also eat fruits, keso de bola, barbeque, bread, spaghetti, donuts and more! Emphasis on MORE! This leads me to the dangerous part of Noche Buena’s then, which is the aftermath of having too much to eat on midnight and then going straight to be afterwards. The other side of Noche Buena is that many of us Filipinos consider it a license to eat anything and everything. It’s our “no diet tonight pass” and “I can be as unhealthy an eater as I want” pass. When you come to think though, if you want a break from your diet, you can do that any time of the day and the year, why do just on Christmas and then do it 5x the usual binging spree? It is no joke to say that many people end up with higher blood pressures and worsened heart conditions because of this. Noche Buena, for many, is license to eat without guilt. This does not mean however that it does not have consequences!
So… not to spread some bahumbug spirit but just a friendly reminder to all of us, with the Vikings buffet, the overflowing Noche Buena dishes and the bottomless pit of our bellies, let’s always remember that Jesus came so that we may have life lived to the full and not a New Year spent at the hospital? Alright? Let’s have fun, enjoy the food, and remember that there’s still tomorrow or next month for that Crispy Pata (if you’ve had a good serving of lechon already). It may not come with the same “no diet pass” that Christmas eve brings, but at least it will come more gently on your health. Haha.
And after all that food, have some hot tea. Or eat it with a glass (and no more than a glass) of red wine. Christmas cheer to all!
By the way, during the past weeks and especially the past days, TRAFFIC in Manila and surrounding provinces has been horrendous. Flights are also being derailed because of the weather and other factors, I don’t know what. If you live here, you know what I mean – airline passengers sleeping at the airport to wait for a flight that’s more than 24 hours delayed. Passengers being bumped off the second flight that they were scheduled for. Also, buses transporting families to their families in provinces and suburbs coming in 6 hours late due to the static traffic. Not to mention, road accidents. Huhu. All this just to make it to their families before Christmas Eve! For the Noche Buena! Partly for the food of course, but more so for a reunion with loved ones. So keep safe everyone, on the road, or on the buffet table. *wink wink* So going back, what are your favorite Noche Buena dishes? 🙂