Food is a central part of every celebration. A party is not a party without food for everyone to partake. In the Philippines, Christmas is all about food and sharing it with friends and loved ones. Sharing Christmas food in the Philippines is about sitting at the table sharing stories and recipes, singing carols and catching up on each others’ lives over a hearty meal.
Food on the Filipino Christmas table is festive, no matter what festive means for each family. Rich or poor, families serve the best they can during Noche Buena, the Christmas feast. Christmastime is oftentimes equated to abundance in the family. After all, this is when bonuses are given to employees so there’s a little extra for a feast.
Traditional Christmas food in the Philippines include lechon, bibingka, lumpia, Filipino-style spaghetti, pancit, hamon and leche flan. More opulent households serve steaks, sushi and other foreign delicacies alongside the Filipino classics.
Most Filipinos are big meat eaters. A table is never complete without a serving of savory meat, be it pork, beef, chicken, even goat or buffalo! Lechon (whole pig roasted over an open pit) is often the central attraction of the Filipino Christmas table. Those who cannot afford an entire pig may purchase some per kilo or opt for the cheaper belly rolls.
Lechon is every Filipino party’s highlight. The crunchy skin and savory melt-in-your-mouth meat are perfect with rice and gravy but it’s also great with a cold beer. You can make a stew called paksiw with lechon leftovers. Paksiw gets better and better after every heating.
Oxtail, vegetables and a rich peanut sauce make kare-kare a very special dish. The unsweetened peanut butter transforms the stew into a savory dish of varying textures. Paired with bagoong as a condiment, this dish is also perfect with a steaming bowl of rice.
Deep fry a pork leg until its skin gets super crispy and you get crispy pata. Families often serve this dish during downtime as a perfect beer match. The skin is best dipped in sinamak – a spicy vinegar concoction.
Humba is another pork dish that goes very well with rice. Do not confuse this with the famous Pinoy adobo. Cooks boil the meat in Sprite until tender and often mix with it salted black beans.
Lumpia is the Filipino version of the Chinese spring rolls. These are either made of meat or vegetables or a combination of both, deep fried until golden brown and served with a sweet and sour dip. Lumpia is a staple in every Filipino party and it’s almost always the first dish to run out.
Filipino-style Spaghetti is totally different from the Italian and even American spaghetti. Filipinos like their meat sauce sweet and a little spicy. There are hotdogs in it, too! Kids especially like this dish paired with fried chicken. If you want to know what this tastes like, Filipino fast food chain Jollibee has it on their menu.
Barbecue is also a party-pleaser but it’s quite different in this side of the world. You place pieces of meat on a skewer, much like a kebab, and grill it over glowing coals. While it’s cooking, slather the meat with a mixture of soy sauce, kalamansi juice, ketchup and any number of herbs and spices.
Filipinos also have a sweet tooth. Ice cream and chocolates are popular but the local desserts take center stage during special occasions like Christmas. Filipino desserts are often milk-based and very sinful.
Leche Flan is a sweet, decadent dessert made of eggs yolks and milk. It is soft and rich, much like the western creme caramel. You may serve leche Flan as a lone dish, or in halo-halo or as part of a custard cake. Either way, this Filipino dessert is glorious.
Buko Salad is a delightful mixture of fruit, milk and shaved young coconut. The fruit can be fresh or straight from a can of fruit cocktail. Christmas food in the Philippines can sometimes be very sinful. Buko salad is one of them.
Mais con Hielo
Mais con Hielo is shaved ice with milk and sweet cord kernels. Some recipes include shaved buko (young coconut) and cheese. Serve this topped with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream and you’ve got a show-stopper.
Mango Tapioca is the Filipino’s answer to the boba milk tea. The heavenly concoction is made of cream, milk, cubes of sweet mango and loads of tapioca balls. It’s a perfect dessert and a refreshing tropical drink, too!
Rice is a staple in the Philippines so it should not come as a surprise that locals have come up with creative ways of preparing it. Rice cakes make special treats after mass and merienda (snack) after a short siesta.
Cook a rice cake with coals under and over it and you’ve got bibingka. A sheet of banana banana leaf holds the cake together. Cheese or slices of salted duck egg brings bibingka to another level of delicious. Serve it with tsokolate (hot chocolate) and you’ve got a great breakfast.
Puto Bumbong is a purple rice cake steamed in bamboo tubes over a special stove. The sticky rice cylinders best come with a side of grated coconut and muscovado sugar. You can find these outside of churches after Misa de Gallo—the nine-morning mass tradition.
Cook long-grain rice cooked in coconut milk and slather it with latik (caramel) to make biko. Sprinkle on some muscovado sugar to make it more decadent. Biko is very sweet and is best paired with black coffee.
You’ll find that Christmas food in the Philippines is a combination of sweet and savory and all flavors in between. The food will make you add on a few pounds but it will be worth it! After all, food brings people together and that’s what the season is about.