By Kara Santos
You know it’s Christmas season once again when you start seeing your favorite Filipino food – Queso de Bola and fiesta ham being displayed in the grocery stores. Soon enough, vendors will start setting up stalls selling everyone’s favorite puto bumbong and bibingka outside churches. These dishes will also inevitably make an appearance on Noche Buena.
If you’re coming home to the Philippines for the holidays, why not mix up these staples by trying out something new? Lots of enterprising establishments across Metro Manila have come up with fusion food, by mixing up two kinds of food into all new creative combos. Here’s a look at how some of our favorite Pinoy Christmas classic dishes have been reinvented with a unique twist in recent years.
PUTO BUMBONG + ICE CREAM
What it is: Commonly eaten after the early dawn mass called “Simbang Gabi”, puto bumbong is a traditional delicacy made from ground rice and cooked in bamboo tubes over special steamer-cookers. After cooking, the cakes are placed on banana leaves, where they are spread with butter and sprinkled with grated coconut and sugar.
The twist: This traditional delicacy has been transformed into a cold treat more apt for our tropical weather – ice cream! Puto bumbong kakanin ice cream is made with malagkit rice cooked with muscovado sugar and margarine and garnished with grated coconut.
Where to find it: You can get scoops of Puto Bumbong Ice Cream from Sebastian’s Ice Cream, an artisanal ice cream parlor that specializes in original and premiere flavors. It’s one of their signature holiday flavors, along with Queso de Bola and Bibibngka Espesyal ice cream.
QUESO DE BOLA + CHEESECAKE
What it is: Always a staple at Filipino Christmas tables, Queso de Bola resembles a Christmas ball because it is round in shape, a bit firm, yellow in color, and is coated in shiny red wax. Queso de Bola is a kind of Edam cheese originally from Holland, which was brought to Philippine shores by the Spaniards.
The twist: Your regular graham crust cheesecake gets an infusion of Pinoy holiday flavor from the salty flavor of queso de bola. This is a perfect blend of sweet and salty flavors that’s perfect for those who don’t like their desserts overwhelmingly sweet.
Where to get it: Queso de Bola Cheesecake is a dessert option served in several restaurants across the Metro, including those specializing in traditional Filipino cuisine like Bagoong Club, Elias and Pia Y Damaso.
BIBINGKA + CREPE
What it is: Bibingka is a classic Pinoy Christmas delicacy which resembles a thick pancake. It is made from glutinous rice prepared in a special clay pot, wrapped with banana leaves and cooked with live coals above and underneath it. Special versions of bibingka have salted duck eggs (itlog na maalat) and/or unripened native soft cheese (kesong puti) cooked on top of it.
The twist: Aside from having an ice cream flavor based on Bibingka, this treat has also been made into a crepe. It’s called the “bibingcrepe,” a play on the words “bibingka” and “crepe” which combines the fluffiness of the traditional bibingka and the creamy goodness of a French pancake.
Where to get it: The restaurant Half Moon Cafe specializes in this double dessert treat.
TABLEA + CAKE
What it is: Tablea is the Philippine version of hot chocolate, which traditionally come in rolls which are cut crosswise to make thick coin-like shapes. The pieces are used to make hot chocolate drinks and the Filipino rice porridge champorado. Cups of rich hot chocolate are always a welcome treat come Christmas time.
The twist: Imagine a chocolate cake with bittersweet icing made with native cacao and condensed milk. This dessert contains all the richness of the hot choco on top of a chocolate cake itself!
Where to get it: Xocolat, a cafe specializing in hot chocolate, serves this decadent dessert aptly called “Death by Tablea.”
UBE + LECHE FLAN + SHAKE
What it is: Ube halaya is a Filipino dessert made from boiled and mashed purple yam. The texture is a little chewy and creamy and it’s traditionally made into a type of cake, though it’s also a popular ice cream flavor in itself as well as a component of other popular Pinoy desserts like halo-halo. Meanwhile, Leche Flan or custard with caramel syrup on top is another favorite Filipino dessert. It has two main ingredients: egg and milk and is a favorite dessert for parties and family celebrations like Christmas.
The twist: Take a generous serving of ube and dollops of leche flan, mix ’em together in a blender, and you’ve got yourself a refreshingly sweet shake. Minimal effort is involved to eat this, as you can enjoy both deserts when you drink it down with the rest of your savory meal.
Where to get it: Ube Leche Flan Shake is served in Max’s Restaurant.
For more adventures in food and travel, visit the author’s blog Travel Up at www.traveling-up.com