Onward and downward, my friends.
Today let’s take a peek at a Filipino Christmas custom, two desserts called bibingka and puto bumbong.
Bibingka and puto bumbong are forms of rice cakes that are now available year round, but they have a place of honor during the Christmas season. They are well known for being the snack of choice after Misa de Gallo, a series of morning masses beginning on December 16th.
The Philippines are the only Asian nation where the Christian faith predominates and the country has celebrated Christmas since the 16th century. Misa de Gallo, meaning “Rooster’s Mass,” takes place during the nine mornings before Christmas. Each mass starts at 4am. Firecrackers, bands, and carols are sung over the church PA system to summon villagers to mass and in some areas, the parish priest will actually walk through the village banging on people’s doors to wake them up.
To compensate for the crazy early morning mass, which is also called Simbang Gabi in the Tagalog region, food booths are set up outside the church with snacks to warm worshippers, specifically bibingka and puto bumbong. Bibingka is a steamed rice pancake and puto bumbong is a cylindrical cake of steamed, purple rice. Both dishes are considered kananin, or rice turned into a snack. They usually use simple ingredients like rice, coconut milk, and sugar as a base, and then other ingredients or toppings are added. The typical accompaniment is hot ginger tea, or salabat, although hot chocolate is also available.
Bibingka is made with galapong, a glutinous rice soaked in water and ground with the water to make either a batter or dough. While it’s possible to use blended flours to make bibingka, it will make for a harder rice cake. Using pure rice flour gives the cake a fluffier and softer texture. It is mixed with heated coconut milk, coconut strips, brown sugar, and traditionally tuba, which is a coconut alcohol. The “batter” is poured into small crocks lined with banana leaves and baked by placing hot coals over and under the crock in steel ovens. Usually, the ovens are made from discarded materials, such as oilcans for tower ovens, and the crocks can be made from the bottoms of tinned food cans. It’s also possible to make larger versions that can be sliced or scooped into individual portions. The bibingka are cooked outdoors and it needs to be carefully timed or the sugar on top will burn.
The bibingka ends up being slightly sweet and is served with itlog na maalat (sliced salted duck eggs), kesong puti (white cheese), and occasionally a slice of ham. The newly cooked bibingka is slathered in butter, sprinkled with brown sugar, and served with niyog (grated coconut). Traditionally, the cake was just made of rice and flour, and the rich toppings were added later on. The banana leaf in which the bibingka is baked gives off an aroma that the cake absorbs to add another element of flavor. The cake is semi-sweet, but there is a sugary crunch from the caramelized sugar, and the salted ducks eggs, cheese, and grated coconut provide lots of pleasant texture. Bibingka, while much better fresh, is also available packaged year round.
Filipino food is a sort of mix of Hispanic, American, Chinese, and other Asian cuisines. The name “bibingka” is similar to an Indian dessert called bebinca, a dessert popular in the state of Goa. The Goan dish is made with similar ingredients, flour (instead of glutinous rice), coconut milk, sugar, egg yolks, ghee or clarified butter, and almonds. Both cakes are cooked with heat on the top and bottom, but bebinca is a layered dessert. Each layer is cooked before the next layer is poured over top. Bibingka’s root word, “bi,” is Romanized mandarin for “unripe grain” or, more simply, “rice.” It is used in naming other cakes, such as various forms of bibingkang (which are not the same as bibingka).
Puto bumbong is a sticky, violet colored rice cake that is steamed in a bamboo tube. Puto is originally a Chinese dish (rice balls) that is served for breakfast or merienda (Filipino equivalent to afternoon tea or brunch). The word “puto” is a generic term for a rice cake made from galapong (rice flour). A regular puto is white, but bumbong is purple because it’s made with pirurutung glutinous rice. There are many other types of puto with just as many variations.
Puto bumbong has a slightly sweet, although bland, flavor. The rice used is soaked overnight and then “ground dry,” meaning it is drained of water and then ground into a flour. The rice flour mixture is poured into bamboo tubes, which are only filled up about half way, wrapped in clothes (so they will not burn hands when handled), and placed on a special steamer.
“The puto bumbong steamer is made out of tin or stainless sheet metal, It usually has three vent or holes on top in which bamboo tubes are attached. These bamboo tubes are filled with the galapong mixture, steam will pass thru the tubes thereby steam cooking the galapong mixture into a finger like and violet colored rice cake.” (Overseas Pinoy Cooking)
The rice mixture expands when steamed, hence the tubes only being filled halfway, and have a heavy, porous texture. It needs to be cooked carefully otherwise the rice will get too sticky and harden if it’s served too soon or too late. The cakes are removed from their tubes and served with sugar, shredded coconut, and butter to add a little oomph to its blandish flavor. They are wrapped in wilted banana leaves to keep them warm and moist.
While both bibingka and puto bumbong are commonly street foods, they are most popular at Christmas. They are so popular that during the Christmas season, 5 star hotels will serve them made with traditional ingredients and cookware. The cakes are also eaten after Christmas Eve Midnight Mass during Noche Buena (Good Night) supper. It’s an extensive dinner that features stuffed chicken or fish, stuffed rolls, noodles, rice pudding with ground coconut, salabat, and fruit.
Here are a couple videos of how to make bibingka and puto bumbong.
And check out Market Manila for more fun stuff about homemade bibingka.
Keep eating and asking, my friends.
-“A Taste of the Philippines: Bibingka and Puto Bumbong: Philippine Christmas Sweets.” A Taste of the Philippines. N.p., 4 Dec. 2010. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://a-taste-of-the-philippines.blogspot.com/2010/12/bibingka-ang-puto-bumbong-philippine.html>.
-Albala, Ken. “Philippines.” Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia: Asia and Oceania. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood, 2011. 222-223. Print.
-Alejandro, Reynaldo G.. “Part Two: Cooking in the Philippines.” The Food of the Philippines: Authentic Recipes from the Pearl of the Orient. Boston: Periplus ;, 1998. 24, 27, 30, . Print.
-Belen, Jun. “Feeling Sentimental and How to Make Bibingka (Christmas Rice Cakes) | Jun-Blog.” Jun-Blog | Photographs and Stories from My Filipino Kitchen. Jun Belen, 20 Dec. 2010. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://blog.junbelen.com/2010/12/20/feeling-sentimental-and-how-to-make-bibingka-christmas-rice-cakes/>.
-“Bibingka, puto bumbong and simbang gabi.” Langyaw – Travel, Adventure and Food. N.p., 16 Dec. 2008. Web. 23 Dec. 2011. <langyaw.com/2008/12/16/bibingka-puto-bumbong-and-simbang-gabi/>.
-Bowler, G. Q.. “Philippines.” The World Encyclopedia of Christmas. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2000. 175. Print.
-Crump, William D.. “Philippines.” The Christmas Encyclopedia. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. 229-230. Print.
-“Puto Bumbong ~ Overseas Pinoy Cooking.” Overseas Pinoy Cooking. N.p., 11 Dec. 2009. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://www.overseaspinoycooking.net/2009/12/puto-bumbong.html>.
-“Search results for “bibingka”.” Market Manila. Market Manila, n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2011. <www.marketmanila.com/?s=bibingka>.
-“Spot.PH.” SPOT.ph: Your One-Stop Urban Lifestyle Guide to the Best of Manila. SPOT.ph, 21 June 2010. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://www.spot.ph/print_article.php?id=45938&post_name=>.
-CASA Veneracion â€” Powered by Apple, Canon, delicious food & great cocktail drinks. Connie Veneracion, 11 Dec. 2004. Web. 24 Dec. 2011. <http://casaveneracion.com/bibingka-and-puto-bumbong/>.
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