Most Popular Filipino Christmas Foods & Desserts
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, as early as September 1.
PHILIPPINES – A myriad of islands in Southeast Asia that takes pride in its colorful festivities and delicious cuisine all year round. Known for its infamous adobo and lechon, this country is also notable for having the longest Christmas season in the world!
As early as September, locals would put up their Christmas decorations boasting an array of colorful lanterns called parol, and shopping malls would start playing Christmas songs all day, reminding everyone that the season of giving has officially begun.
The highlight of this four-month celebration is of course the Noche Buena (Spanish for Good Night)—a traditional Christmas Eve Feast to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It was said that during the Spanish Era, friars had required churchgoers to fast until Christmas morning, but Filipinos would usually be hungry after coming back from the Christmas Midnight mass called the “Misa de Gallo” in Spanish, or “Simbang Gabi” in Filipino. Because of this, locals figured out a way to eat small meals before going to bed, giving birth to the tradition of “Noche Buena.”
The Noche Buena spread varies from household to household depending on their economic status, but here are five of the common delicacies that are most definitely present on everyone’s table:
Bibingka (bee-bing-ka) is a simple Filipino cake made with rice, butter, eggs, sugar, and milk, topped with cheese and salted duck egg, then sprinkled with grated coconut. Authentic preparation of this holiday rice cake involves soaking the grains overnight then ground, giving it a fluffy and velvety texture locals enjoy.
The word “bi” is Chinese for rice, thus bibingka, biko (sticky rice cake), bihon (rice noodles), and bilo-bilo (glutinous rice balls). Historically, bibingka was not spared from further foreign influences. The Spanish, for example, topped the bibingka with sugar, cheese and butter, and sprinkled it with Edam cheese. The Chinese, meanwhile, introduced red salted duck eggs on top of this Filipino staple.
2. Puto Bumbong
Another delicacy that’s sold all over the Philippines during simbáng gabi, and can be found side by side with bibingka. Puto bumbong is a purple, sticky rice cake, made by meticulously soaking black glutinous rice (pirurutong) in water and drying it overnight.
The dried (almost powdery) rice is then steamed in traditional bamboo tubes, served on a bed of banana leaves with warm butter or margarine and generously sprinkled with coconut flakes and palm sugar granules (muscovado).
3. Queso De Bola (Ball of Cheese)
Since cheese is not a staple in Filipino cuisine, having a big ball of cheese on the dining table during Christmas Eve is considered not only a feast, but a festive decor.
This round, semi-hard Edam cheese has a salty and nutty flavor that is covered in red paraffin wax, wrapped in its iconic red crinkly plastic. This great ball of cheese is served with jamón (ham) and pandesal (Filipino soft bread) during the Noche Buena.
4. Fruit Salad
It’s not Christmas Eve until the smell of this sweet staple lingers in the kitchen. Filipinos typically make this ahead of time, using fruit cocktails instead of fresh fruits, sweetened with condensed milk and all-purpose cream.
Many households also make this dish extra special for Noche Buena by adding shredded fresh coconut to the mix. To make it taste more festive, some even add diced creamy cheese. This delicious dessert can be enjoyed right away, refrigerated, or even frozen.
The Filipino Christmas Ham—the star of the show. To some, having a ball of ham on the table is a status symbol since it is not affordable and only served for very special occasions. The boneless ham is the most common ham on the market.
This whole boneless cut of pork is cured in a sweet glaze, giving it a touch of smokiness and more depth of flavor. To make it even more festive, most Filipinos incorporate pineapple chunks, giving it a sweet and tangy fruity glaze!
From Christmas to birthdays and local festivals, Lechon is definitely a mouthwatering centerpiece. Derived from the Spanish word for “roasted suckling pig,” lechon is probably the most popular dish of the country.
Traditionally, whole pigs are marinated in various herbs and sauces, then spit-roasted slowly over charcoal for hours. The result? Meat that is rendered tender and juicy, pork skin as crisp as candy and caramelized to perfection.
7. Leche Flan
This creamy and decadent dessert is always a showstopper when done right. Leche Flan is a simple dessert made with egg yolk, sugar, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Because of the ease in its preparation, anyone can whip up this delectable dessert any time of the day. That is why lolas (grandmothers) used to make it ahead of time so they can let it chill in the fridge just in time for celebrations like parties, fiestas and Noche Buena.
Leche flan is typically steamed in an oval-shaped tin mold known as a llanera, over an open flame or stovetop, although it can sometimes be baked.
Beef Morcon is a classic Filipino Christmas food and is mostly served only for Noche Buena and on special occasions. This delicious dish is simply a Filipino meat (beef) roll stuffed with Chorizo de Bilbao or hotdog, carrot, pickle, cheese, and egg. Cheap cuts of beef can be used to make this main dish since the cooking requires hours of stewing in a tomato-based sauce.
Morcon’s tedious process starts by laying the beef flat on a chopping board or table, then it is pounded until it reaches the desired thickness. The beef is then marinated in soy sauce, garlic, peppercorns, and calamansi or lime for at least two hours. After tying everything together with kitchen twine, the beef rolls are transferred to a pot to simmer until tender.
9. Macaroni Salad
This creamy, tangy, and refreshing side dish is always present in the Noche Buena spread. With just the right amount of sweetness, this Filipino version of the chicken macaroni salad can be gobbled up while waiting for the main dishes to cook.
Locals enjoy this dish with cheese, eggs, relish, pineapple and creamy mayonnaise, and condensed milk. Some add raisins, carrots, onions, and even ham!
10. Pasta Dishes: Filipino Spaghetti and Pancit
Of course, it is not a celebration without a main pasta dish (or dishes). Filipinos love their sweet version of spaghetti that is made with a blend of tomato sauce, Banana Ketchup, and condensed milk. This bright red, sweet spaghetti is usually made with ground beef and hotdogs.
In the Philippines, people can buy packaged spaghetti sauce in the grocery or make it from scratch. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!
Pancit is almost always present in the Noche Buena. There are dozens of different variations of pancit with many interpretations, each originating from certain regions of the Philippines. Sometimes, the name of the dish depends on the province where it originated (ex. pancit Bato of Bicol), or it also depends on the type of noodles that are being used: lo mein, vermicelli, egg noodles, rice noodles, the list is endless.
“Pancit bihon” means rice noodles, while “Pancit canton” means egg noodles. There are countless versions of pancit; every family makes it differently, but the most common ingredients present in any pancit dish is a mix of thinly sliced meat that is usually chicken, and vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, and green beans, then topped with lemon juice, scallions, and hard-boiled eggs to give it a more festive look.
Related: Most Popular Filipino Dishes
Related: Most Popular Filipino Desserts