25 Days of Christmas: puto bungbong and bibingka

3:30 PM

Yesterday, 16 December, was day one of Simbang Gabi. It’s the Christmas Novena that is celebrated before dawn. Lore has it, since I still have to see a verified document, that the church moved the novena mass from the evening to pre-dawn so that the farmers can attend without keeling over due to the exhaustion from the heat and work of the day.

We here in the Philippines have always thought that this Christmas novena is a unique Filipino tradition.  I recently found out that they have quite the same thing in Columbia. Christmas Novena masses in the morning and evening, nine days before Christmas. 

People do this novena for many reasons – tradition, intentions, and the food. Oh, the food. Several years ago, you could eat  - puto bungbong and bibingka only when you attend a dawn mass. Puto Bungbong is steamed sticky rice topped with panocha (cane sugar) while Bibingka is cake made of rice flour and coconut milk or butter. It is topped with salted eggs and grated coconut. Some entrepreneurial souls decided that these treats should be available all-year round and set up shop selling them. But I must say, they’re still best eaten right after mass while the sun is rising, signaling a new day. 

Here's how they cook puto bungbong: 

Step one: fill that cylinder with purple malagkit.
The cylinder needs to be well-stuffed!
Step two: stick the bamboo into the steamer.
Step three: wait until it's cooked. 
The steamer is heated by charcoal. 
Step four: sing a knife, take the cooked puto-bungbong out of the cylinder using a knife. slather on some butter while hot. 

And here's how they bake the bibingka:

Pour the mixture into a clay plot lined with a banana leaf. 
Add the salted egg so it would be on top when it is baked. 
The bibingka is with heat underneath and by topping the claypot with a tray of charcoal. 
The bibingka is done!

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