Filipinos are great lovers of good food. We will always find a reason to enjoy and share good food with friends and family. Kumain ka na ba? (Have you eaten?) is considered an acceptable greeting after Kamusta? (How are you?). This is really an invitation to talk and catch up over an informal meal. Food for Filipinos is considered a blessing to always be shared.
This is most evident during Christmas where food plays a major role in the observance of the season. The Christmas Season officially begins on December 16 with the attendance of the first pre-dawn mass, the Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) or Misa de Gallo (Dawn Mass).
Even the tradition of Simbang Gabi is invariably tied to food. Puto bumbong (purple-yam flavored rice cake) and bibingka (a type of traditional Filipino sticky-rice cake) are traditional treats eaten right after dawn Masses. And there is the favorite Christmas song Noche Buena (referring to the Christmas Eve feast, but literally “good night”), describing foods present at a typical Filipino Christmas Feast.
In the tradition of giving and receiving gifts of food, one popular theme is the food basket. As early as the last weeks of October, grocery stores begin displaying their selections of Christmas gift baskets, which usually consist of items that can be used in the preparation of the Noche Buena. Popular basket staples are the Queso de Bola (red wax-covered ball of Dutch cheese) and Christmas Ham.
Many of these gift baskets are from single brands that produce more than one product. This is a good and inexpensive way to increase sales, rather than letting customers arrange the products themselves. So don’t be surprised if some unusual (read: not-too-easy-to-sell) products make their way to the average grocery bought Christmas food basket.
Grocery baskets are becoming a popular choice since they are relatively inexpensive yet always appreciated for their practicality. In the last few weeks of December, baskets of round and roundish fruits also appear in anticipation of the New Year. 12 round fruits are traditionally placed on the table during New Year’s eve to ensure a prosperous year ahead.
Gifts From Your Kitchen
Many baking enthusiasts choose to cook their way through Christmas—both as a personal touch and as a business. Baking everything from Christmas cookies to Christmas tartlets, enthusiasts get both savings and great satisfaction in making their own gifts for friends. It is interesting to find the true spirit of Christmas in this endeavor, while going against the mainstream commercialized Christmas.
Of course giving from your kitchen does not stop with baked products. Colorful whole fruit preserves, candied fruits, and even canned delights can be used by the recipient both as an ingredient in the Noche Buena feast and as decorations to be consumed after the holidays.
In Pretender, one of our favorite ’90s TV shows, Jarod (the main character played by Michael T. Weiss) receives a fruitcake for the very first time in his life. His friend explains to him that it’s a cake with candied fruits. Jarod replies that something as good as cake and candied fruits combined must be twice as wonderful—at which point he tastes it. His face takes on the combined expression of surprise and disappointment only a kid tasting fruitcake for the first time can have.
Fruitcake is to Christmas as tikoy is to the Chinese New Year. But with so many inferior fruitcakes circulating during the Christmas season, the fruitcake has had its reputation battered (pardon the pun). The poor fruitcake sometimes sits in the ref for weeks, until someone decides to throw it to the dog—or at the neighbor’s dog. Some creative Americans living in the Philippines find it very useful as a doorstop.
The Christmas fruitcake is actually a wonderful product, but if it is to be appreciated then it has to be well made. There are still lots of reputable bakeshops out there that make great fruitcake. If you plan to bake your own, we suggest using excellent quality dried fruits, glacéed fruits, nuts, spice, and liqueur. The taste of a good fruitcake cannot be achieved by just creative packaging.
A blessed Christmas and a prosperous New Year to everyone!
Print ed: 12/08