Food & Drink

Filipino Christmas Traditions (& Food) I Miss

Filipino Christmas Traditions (& Food) I Miss

As I was wondering of what topic to write about while listening to my Christmas feels playlist tonight, a classic OPM (Original Pilipino or Pinoy Music) song broke into my head and made me feel all nostalgic over Christmas festivities and celebrating it with my family in the Philippines. So now I know exactly what I’d like to share with you – this is for anyone who is traveling to the Philippines this season and curious to know about why this event of the year is the most important and special for most Pinoys at least and how you can best experience a meaningful and one-of-a-kind tropical Christmas such as ours.

Simbang Gabi

simbang gabi

If you don’t already know yet, around 80% of the Philippines’ population is devout Roman Catholics. Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo in Spanish, which literally means rooster mass, is a 9-day novena mass commencing from the 16th of December up to Christmas eve – a long esteemed tradition being practiced until today for over 600 years. Beautifully-decorated churches usually hold masses as early as 4 in the morning or an anticipated mass varying between 8 and 9 in the evening to give the devotees a chance to attend the masses after work or the ones who can’t commit to waking up every 4am – although that’s definitely part of the sacrifice you make. It has been believed that if you complete all the masses throughout these 9 consecutive days, whatever you fervently pray for will be granted. Also, at every Simbang Gabi, there will be vendors outside of the church selling Filipino delicacies traditionally cooked and eaten during the Christmas season.

Parol

These are glorious handcrafted Christmas lanterns that can be made out of art paper, colored foil or plastic or capiz shells. As early as September, parols will start appearing along the streets, in front of homes, surrounding shopping malls, parks and other public spaces. Parol to us is like Christmas trees to Western culture. This symbolizes the star of Bethlehem, which guided the three kings to the manger. Although it has evolved from having a simple star-shaped pattern to very intricate kaleidoscopic versions with hypnotizing light mechanism through the years, it has always remained the most recognizable symbol of Filipinos’ faith and hope. We even have a giant lantern festival happening a week before Christmas every year in Pampanga City http://www.giantlantern.ph/, where many and the most beautiful parols are produced, holds a lantern competition showcasing breathtaking parol craftsmanship.

Longest Christmas celebrations

At least in my opinion, it is – the festivities seem to go on forever. Christmas parties before December, why not? You hardly have any “me time” during this month because you’ll have way too many visitors, people to shop for and parties to attend. That’s why a lot of my Filipino friends overseas do not come home for Christmas every year (even if they are dying to) because it can get really expensive – you can probably imagine why. As mentioned before, Christmas spirit gets fired up as early as September and burns until after the Epiphany or Three Kings’ day on the 6th of January. I’ve never been anywhere that celebrates Christmas for an extended period of time besides the Philippines. So the first week of January is actually the only time people start putting away their Christmas decors.

Christmas carols

We have a bunch of kids doing rounds in the whole village everyday to sing Christmas carols outside of your house in hopes of getting a few coins or treats. You can even request a particular song you like and if they know it, they will be happy to sing it for you with their tambourines, marakas and drums. Yes, it’s like trick or treating in Halloween, but they won’t play tricks on you if you don’t give them anything – they will instead belt out a special song just for cheapskates. So give them something! Oh and adults also do this, but oftentimes, they will give you an envelope before they come to visit you with a letter of intent. That way you’ll be more prepared for them.

Aguinaldo

This Spanish term, which the Filipinos have adopted, means a Christmas bonus or stapled crisp peso bills. Normally, children will be visiting their immediate family, relatives and godparents and receiving “aguinaldos” on Christmas day or some days later. It’s like the red packet or ang pao in Chinese tradition given during special occasions. But in the Philippines, we only expect it from the elderly during Christmas time and in my experience, if you’re already older than 16, you don’t get anything anymore! A time will come that you will eventually stop being considered as a kid consequently cutting your Christmas funds cashflow.

Noche Buena

On Christmas eve, we get super excited about two things: the gift giving part and sharing a dinner feast together with typical Filipino Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) dishes on the table. More than the delicious grub on the table, it’s the togetherness that always makes it complete.

Now let’s talk a bit about some typical Filipino Christmas food, shall we?

15644951_155926608221360_1349869045_nBibingka and puto bumbong – this will normally be available during the Simbang Gabi/Dawn Mass. Bibingka is a type of rice cake topped with cheese, margarine and salted egg steamed with banana lining while puto bumbong is a purple glutinous rice recipe with a dash of sugar, salt, butter and heaps of shredded coconut. YUM!

Meats – pineapple glazed ham, goat meat stew (kaldereta), crispy pata (pig’s thigh), roasted pig (lechon) – yes, we love pork! Stay away from these if you need to watch your cholesterol levels. You know what they say, the bad stuff always tastes the best. There are always healthier options or try it in small portions – if you got your self-control down pat.

Pancit malabon or spaghetti – other than rice, you can pick either of these for your carbo fix. Pancit malabon is a savory rice noodles loaded with seafood, boiled eggs and veggies. Our Filipino-style spaghetti recipe is sweet with hotdog slices and carrots – you will hardly taste the “sourness” of the tomato paste! I’m not sure how the Italians will react to it, but we like it that way.

Fruit cake or bread – everyone knows what this is, right? We like giving these away because it lasts for a while and you can get these in supermarkets in gift-ready shiny colored boxes – held together with a cute ribbon!

Macaroni or fruit salad – If you’re making the fruit salad, you should never forget the shredded young coconut meat!

Keso de bola – this is our local version of Edam cheese from the Netherlands. You will normally pair it with the sweet ham and a slice of bread! Or just with wine.

lechon

Uhmm, okay enough of that for now. I hate to work up an appetite for all of it and not have any within reach! And I’m starting to miss everyone back home sorely…again!

With everything that is unique about Christmas in the Philippines, it’s really something that grows on you and miss everytime you are away. Just as someone who has been celebrating Christmas in the cold all their life and doing their own Christmas traditions will find it hard to adapt to Christmas celebrations elsewhere – somehow there’s always something missing, right? But it’s always good to experience Christmas in other places and be exposed to other traditions – and appreciate your own even more.

Posted by Sarah in Destinations, Food & Drink, Philippines, 7 comments
Shrimp Fajita Fried Rice

Shrimp Fajita Fried Rice

I haven’t really stayed long enough in Mexico to immerse myself in the authentic Mexican cuisine, especially not on that daytrip to Tijuana when all I had were fish tacos and nachos coupled with margaritas, which were awesome, by the way! Luckily, I’ve found enough great restaurants in the US (especially in California) whipping up mouth-watering burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and dishes oozing with recognizable flavors of Mexican cuisine that look and taste quite authentic to me! I must say that it’s still at the top of my favorite cuisines, like always! I’ll even go so far as to say that I probably love it more than Filipino food. Come on guys, don’t slam me for saying that, please. I’m just being honest!

Shrimp Fajita Fried Rice Pin

If you know what a great Mexican food should taste like, you’ll quickly realize that it can be tough to find good restaurants in other parts of the world that truly make it Mexican. Imagine that!

That’s why today when I had my usual craving of shrimp fajitas and a load of rice, I had no choice but to make my own! Good thing I remembered to include the spices/seasonings in the grocery list when we took a trip to the supermarket – got to be prepared for times like this! Although not everything (like cilantro) was available here, I’d have to make do with what I have!

Shrimp Fajita Fried Rice Pin 2

So I made a shrimp fajita fried rice – a Fil-Mex fusion! The first of my quick and easy recipes to bring the flavours of the world to my table! How did it turn out? Well, it made me want to give myself the biggest bearhug for a job well done after the first spoonful. Try it and let me know what you think! 😉

Shrimp Fajita Fried Rice Recipe

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

250g shrimp, peeled & deveined

1 tsp Provence seasoning (rosemary, thyme, savory, oregano, basil, majoram & fennel seed) , plus ¼ salt

3 cups cooked steamed rice

2 small bell pepper (red and green), diced

1 cup green beans, chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp chili powder/cayenne pepper (double this accdg to preference)

1 tsp paprika powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp fresh lime juice

1 ½ tbsp canola/olive oil

¼ cup fresh cilantro (if you have)

Method:

Mix the Provence seasoning, salt, cilantro and lime juice together in a zip lock bag before throwing in the shrimps inside. Make sure the shrimps are completely coated, then marinate for 30 mins. Heat up the oil in the pan over medium-high flame. Then put the shrimps with the marinade and cook until it turns pink. Add the steamed rice, ground cumin, chili powder/cayenne pepper, paprika powder, salt – stir until well incorporated. Lastly, add in the vegetables, mix and let it sit there for at least 3 mins before filling up your plate with a huge serving!

If you don’t have the Provence herbs, just replace it with oregano. Most of the time, that’s good enough! I just made use of the seasoning mix because I don’t have plain oregano.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Do you have a favorite Mexican dish that you have recreated into your own version of it? Please share it with me in the comments – I’d love to try it!

Posted by Sarah in Food & Drink, 0 comments
Krombacher Brewery Tour

Krombacher Brewery Tour

We travel for so many different reasons and one of which is to experience the culture of a place. And when you’re in Germany, you don’t just see and taste the culture…you drink it up with so much gusto.

That’s how I ended up at Krombacher Brauerei (Brewery) in Kreutzal, Germany.
Krombacher entrance

Krombacher Brauerei is one of the largest privately owned breweries in Germany and ranks number 2 among Germany’s best selling breweries. – Wikipedia

With thousands of breweries (including micro and craft breweries) all over Germany, Krombacher produces one of the most flavorful brews especially in the Weizen (wheat beer – at least, for me) category.
Krombacher brewery facility
The tour is all in German though, so you don’t have a choice. It will be great if you have someone who can manage to translate German to English for you or you are already quite familiar with the brewing process. I bet you all just want to fast forward to the end of the tour and start knocking down a few bottles or glasses of beer.
Krombacher Beer Heaven
For 10 euros, you get more than your money’s worth. A seat at their auditorium for a short film viewing, the semi-guided and audio tour and two hours of merrymaking! And when they say free flow of beers, they mean it! It wasn’t like other brewery tours where you will only get samplers in tiny glasses or the free flow window is just too short you won’t even get to savor the taste. At Krombacher brewery, you won’t have to hog the bar by the beer taps – it will just keep coming to you until you give it a pass. Also, it comes with a platter of “light” snack consisting of delectable ham, bread and pickles that are prepared for a gigantic tummy.
Krombacher brewery pic
As this was my first ever brewery tour, it set the bar high for the next ones. It’s definitely a very enjoyable and memorable experience that will be hard to measure up to.
More details:

 

Website: www.krombacher.com/www.krombacher.de
Days: Mon-Thurs (11:00, 16:00), Fri (11:00, 17:00), Sat (11:00, 15:00, 18:00)
Duration: 3.5 hours
Price: 10 euros (regular), 8 euros (members)

 

Posted by Sarah in Food & Drink, 0 comments
9 Tips to Enjoy the Underrated Filipino Cuisine

9 Tips to Enjoy the Underrated Filipino Cuisine

I’ve recently came across an article telling the world that a person would rather starve than eat Filipino food again. Honestly, it’s not the only time a stranger or someone I know strongly disapprove of Filipino cuisine or express their utter disappointment in their food-tasting experience in my country. In fact, they are not a small number – the intensity of distaste is startlingly high that for a long time it made me doubt my ability to judge delicious food from disgusting ones.

IMG_4488

Yes, they have thrown in adjectives such as disgusting, gross, tasteless, terrible, poor, dirty, unappetizing, etc. I can take and even agree that some can be too salty, fatty and oily (sure, but it’s not the only cuisine which showcases dishes like that!). But to call Filipino food disgusting?! Boy, you’ve gone way too far!

My Dad, who is very meticulous and critical with his food preparations that you cannot touch anything in the kitchen until he’s done, spoiled us by whipping up to-die-for Filipino dishes since we were young. And surely, he can’t be just the only wonderful cook in the Philippines, can he? So I felt the urge to defend one of the few things we pride ourselves in.

To each his own, they’d say. Maybe Filipino food is just not for everyone – either you love it or hate it kind of thing. But let me just share a few ways on how you can appreciate and enjoy our cuisine when you do decide to try it (once again) in the future.

1. Do your research

By research I mean, do not ask Google! Go on a some travel or food-centric forum and ask for the recommendations of local foodies or check out their food blogs. They can show you where to head out for a satisfying meal.

2. Leave whatever notion you have of how Filipino food should be

With mainly Spanish, Malay, Chinese and American influences, you can pretty much digest that Filipino food is meant to be different, possibly even out of the box! It’s not wise to compare it to Thai, Viet, Chinese,etc – because you can’t. For one, we don’t mainly consume noodles.

3. Expect to be surprised or better yet, do not expect

I was once told that Filipino food often tastes like the complete opposite of what you expect – especially if it’s our own version of some popular food fare. Spaghetti with sweet sauce, chicken curry with mostly cream and not spicy at all and all the rest we tried to recreate to cater to distinctive Filipino palates favoring sweet, sour and the indescribable.

4. Stick to the safe ones if you’re not adventurous and used to eating food off the streets

Because Balut will make you throw up, street foods will most likely cause diarrhea and you can forget about ever having fond memories of a “foodtrip” while in the country. Safe? Do I mean fast food? Maybe, if that’s your thing. Safe means proper Filipino restaurants which I’m sure a lot of local food bloggers can point you to. Refer to #1.

5. Know your preferences before you start randomly picking

Even if you would love to try something new, keep your preferences in mind. The variety of veggies, types of meat or mixture of flavors you’d like to try. Knowing what you’re really after will make food hunting a lot easier for yourself and others who you will be asking for recommendations.

6. Remember that every region has their own delicacies and every food place has their own version of a “specialty”

baked spring rolls (lumpiang shanghai)

You can never go wrong with Lumpiang Shanghai!

Filipino cuisine cannot be defined by adobo, lechon, kare kare, sinigang and others you would normally find in roadside eatery or restaurant menus. Nor can you walk into a restaurant somewhere and assume that’s the standard flavor we’re all accustomed to. Filipinos like experimenting with recipes to produce their own “signature dish”. The goal is to locate the best place to try a dish that is, again, close or suitable to your preferences. If you really want the authentic taste, travel to that region and have it there. It must be known that the Philippines is divided by regions with contrasting tastes. We don’t just put sugar, salt and vinegar as main ingredients to our food. Take comfort in the fact that you can savor herbs and spices, chili peppers, fermented fish, shrimp paste and coconut milk, among others, in our delicacies.

7. Understand that in a lot of cases, creating an authentic Filipino dish – even the simplest – is labor intensive

Sadly, most packaged seasonings that are used in cooking Filipino dishes are either substandard or MSG ridden. So you either have to just make do with it or make it from scratch. If and when you go for the latter, that’s truly what you call labor of love. What makes it challenging is not the lack of ingredients or resources, but the lack of time to prepare it. Ask anyone how to make Kare kare (Oxtail peanut stew), Bicol Pinangat (fish/lobster/crab meat w/ chillies wrapped in taro leaves, cooked in coconut milk) or even Monggong Guisado (mung bean soup) and they’ll probably start getting exhausted before they could even start. Definitely, if you know where to look you can get these at an uncompromised bargain somewhere – hardly having commercialized qualities.  But most of the time, this labor of love is what you will be paying for in specialty and upscale restaurants. Unless, like I said, you travel to the source or play nice to be invited to a local’s home.

8. If you can afford it, pay premium

A lot of Filipinos, from all walks of life, enter the food business because it’s believed to be fail proof if you know how to manage it. From food carts to fancy restaurants – people are making a living out of it. But apart from our typical street food for snacks, you’re better off having your first meal in a proper restaurant. Seriously, finding a USD $1 meal at a carinderia (food stall) and expecting it to propel you to heaven is a rarity. Truth be told, some small time food business owners tend to focus more on offering affordable quick-and-easy food that its quality suffers and unfortunately, they’re everywhere. But why do a lot of people eat there? To save money, of course – what? Do you really think everyone enjoys it? And for some less fortunate locals who hardly have enough to feed a family buying off of those food carts/stalls you consider bad, they are just thankful these exist – go on, tell them to their face they’re eating disgusting food. I hope that makes you feel better.

 

And lastly…

9. Feast on a banana leaf with bare hands! 

Source: cebuphotoblogph.com

Boodle fight! Source: cebuphotoblogph.com

It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

If you have got your head around these tips and you are still, “Nah-ah, I’ve been to everywhere and tried everything, but still I got to say Filipino food really sucks!” then have yourself checked and maybe you are suffering from dysguesia (a distortion of the sense of taste). I’m unable to help you with that.

Good and bad food are everywhere. I definitely have my most and least loved Filipino buffet items, too. But no matter what cuisine I try (and I dig into everything!) in every part of the world, nothing can make me outgrow my love for Filipino food – carrying unique yet familiar blend of flavours which laid the groundwork for a welcoming appetite for gastronomic adventures free from any prejudice.

Posted by Sarah in Food & Drink, Lists, Philippines, 0 comments