Around the world, many cultures celebrate the holidays as a time of plenty – with the dinner table being the centerpiece of every gathering. Here in the Philippines, this sentiment echoes through every household, as families prepare the most special meals they couldn’t normally eat for the rest of the year. But how do Filipinos exactly celebrate Christmas and the New Year on the dinner table?
Held on Christmas Eve, the Noche Buena is a night-long celebration where Filipinos stay up late to await the following Christmas Day. No matter the economic background, it is a feast that comprises of a variety of decadent and hearty food. These include everything from store-bought staples like hamon and quezo de bola, as well as home-cooked specialties like caldereta, morcon, and embutido.
Wonder how Filipinos celebrate as they count down to the New Year? It’s with none other than the Media Noche, a food and fireworks-filled tradition that extends from the dinner table to the street. The Media Noche menu usually comprises of something similar to the Noche Buena – everything from delicious hamon, to the large bowls of fruit salad can easily be enjoyed during this occasion.
Still, there are a couple of unique practices during the Media Noche: these include having a 12-round fruit centerpiece (as round fruits symbolize prosperity throughout the whole year), making noise with the torotot (horns), setting off fireworks and firecracker fountains on the street, as well as wearing polka-dotted clothes (to again attract prosperity as polka dots resemble coins).
The Filipino Holiday Menu
With the tradition of Christmas introduced to the Philippines by the Spaniards, it can be no surprise to see a wide range of Spanish dishes set on Filipino holiday tables. Take a look at these several festive dishes and desserts often served during these 2 special occasions.
Often called the Filipino meatloaf, the embutido is made of seasoned ground pork, well beaten eggs, sausages or hotdogs, minced onions, carrots, and peas. Originally, this savoury dish is wrapped with banana leaves – but Filipino nowadays wrap the embutido mixture in aluminum foil before steaming and frying.
It’s crisp, chewy, and fatty – the lechon is a revered guilty pleasure found in every fiesta and Christmas dinner table. It’s basically a whole (and expensive!) roasted pig that’s served with spiced sauce (made of chicken liver and pepper).
This popular chicken or pork dish is also often served during Christmas and the New Year. Derived from the Spanish word adobar (marinade), it is made of evenly cut chunks of meat braised in soy sauce and vinegar before being left to simmer in low heat. It results in a rich, flavorful dish that’s a staple in any occasion.
Arguably the star of the Christmas table, the hamon (or Christmas ham) is store-bought, and often gifted to friends and family during the holiday season. It is also typically flavoured with pineapple and eaten with quezo de bola and pandesal.
Shiny, red, and found in almost every holiday feast, the quezo de bola (ball of cheese) is a tart piece of cheese that’s originally imported from Holland. It is known for its characteristic crumbliness and saltiness, though nowadays generic local varieties have become more popular.
Made of either beef or goat, caldereta is a tomato-based stew also often served during the holidays. Combining tomato sauce, onions, liver spread, bell pepper, and cheese, it is a rich and flavorful treat one can easily eat with several mounds of steaming white rice.
First introduced by Chinese settlers, pancit (or noodles) is traditionally believed to prolong one’s life once eaten. It comprises numerous varieties, though the most popular ones include the pancit canton (made with egg noodles and vegetables), bihon (made with rice noodles, vegetables and Chinese sausage), as well as palabok (made of rice noodles and a thick, golden shrimp sauce). Often, these are ordered by the bilao (a large round basket).
Puto bumbong is a type of purple rice cake often served after Filipinos attend the Simbang Gabi (midnight/early morning masses held on the 9 days leading to Christmas). It is prepared by steaming a mixture of ground purple rice in a bamboo tube, and topped with margarine, coconut and sugar.
Another Christmas classic, the bibingka is a round rice cake traditionally cooked in clay over banana leaves. Cooked with rice flour, quezo de bola, and salted duck egg, it is also sprinkled with coconut and topped with margarine – and served by vendors during the SImbang Gabi similar to the puto bumbong.
The Filipino-style fruit salad is a simple dessert that combines a canned fruit cocktail with cream, sweetened condensed milk, gelatin, and fresh coconut meat. This colorful dish likely originated during the American colonial period, as an influx of canned goods (such as fruit cocktails) began to be introduced to Filipino kitchens.