Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Signs of the Times

As the mornings become misty and there is a decided nip in the air, cooking paraphernalia are taken out onto the streets to churn out the season's delicacies.

But local Christmas fare have become so popular that they have become mainstream (I mean they are now available year-round). It is roasting chestnuts, which are not locally grown, which truly signify that the holidays are fast approaching. Because chestnuts never make their appearance beyond the season, they are the very visible hallmark that usher in the merry-making, like a very loud tolling of the bells.

It is not chestnuts roasting on an open fire..., though. It is chestnuts being shoveled around with fine-ground, oily gravel (or at least that's how it looks to me) in a huge, shallow pan, out in the streets. Not very poetic. But I guess it is more attractive this way, being cooked streetside for all to see.

Though I don't see the attraction. I never liked chestnuts. My mother, or grandmother, always bought chestnuts during Christmas time, but they never appealed to me. They are too soft to be considered nuts, and they resemble kamote, or the lowly sweet potatoes, in taste and texture.

Bibingka are a special breakfast treat that is actually eaten anytime of the day. They attain the status of being a delicacy when partaken right after the nine dawn masses leading to Christmas, just cooked and smoking hot, taken out of the primitive clay oven just a few seconds before the first bite, the butter on the surface melting and soaking the crumb.

Bibingka is the stuff of lore, with variations in every region (with appellations of special, or royal, etc.). The cooking equipment used is so unique it has been the subject of riddles in local languages. The batter is placed in thick clay pans lined with banana leaf, which imparts flavor to the "pastry," and live coals in tin plates are placed on top and underneath, so that the bibingka is evenly baked.

Puto bumbong is purple-colored rice roll steamed in a bamboo contraption placed over live coals. A particular variety of rice makes the delicacy violet hued. By itself puto bumbong is bland, but it is slathered with butter, heaped with sugar and grated fresh coconut meat, and wrapped in banana leaves, producing an aromatic and sweet treat.


Anonymous said...

The farmers markets here sell chestnuts still in their fuzzy porcupine looking pod. I keep saying I'm going to buy some just to check them out.
I don't think I've ever had bibingka, but I know I've heard of it.

Kai said...

Buy some, Mrs. L, for the sake of that song ;-) Bibingka is the stuff of legend. Filipinos are crazy about it, along with ensaymada.

Anonymous said...

Bibingka, oh boy do I love it. One of my favorites. If I go anywhere near a Filipino place and they have it I have to buy some. I had chestnuts once (in England). Ensaymada does no ring a bell. I think the other food you mentioned I've tasted. It is so hard to remember since I left Manila in 1945. Thank god for my Grandma who cooked stuff for me to taste so I did not forget everything. Ruth

Kai said...

Oh well, I'll have to post about ensaymada then. I'm actually on a quest to find the best one/s, but I haven't been satisfied with the ones I've had. If there's a Goldilocks bakeshop in your area they usually have some, though it's not the best representative.

Anonymous said...

You know, there was a Goldilocks bakeshop sort of near to us but it's out of the way and I haven't been there in years. But I looked online and saw one that's closer to where I live. I might have to make a run there sometime soon!

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