Celebrating the Yuletide season is not really about the beautiful, colorful decorations you hang around the house or the presents underneath the Christmas tree.
When we think back on Christmases past, what we would most likely remember is not what were in the stockings, or what was in that big box we received from our Ninongs and Ninangs. What we would remember is spending time with the people that we love – pulling the crackers, playing board games, singing carols, laughing with people over silly, but funny antics etc.
Out of all these wonderful and warm memories, the one that probably sticks the most in our memory is the food we all partake at Christmas time. We remember the warmth of our mother’s cooking—the delicious aromas wafting in the air and the inevitable stories associated with them.
Suffice it to say, in every gathering especially on Christmas Day, food plays an important role.
Filipinos are known for their love of food, and Christmas is no exception. Food is – and will always be – the centerpiece of any Pinoy celebration. It represents the idea of coming together and creating good memories.
Come Christmas time, food favorites are prepared and secret family recipes are shared. For Filipinos, there are staples that will always be present at the Noche Buena table.
Christmas is never complete without the ham, which is always paired with queso de bola, the sweet and salty cheese that is usually covered in bright red wax. The best Christmas ham must be tender, sweet and savory, and comes with that special glaze.
Another dish that always makes an appearance at the Noche Buena table is the Lengua Estofado, a Spanish-influenced dish that never fails to satisfy the Filipino palate. It is cooked using ox tongue, stewed in rich sauce until tender. Those who have a lot of time to prepare include the paella in their Yuletide spread. This Spanish dish symbolizes the grandness and richness of the season.
Who could forget the smoky goodness of grilled food? Filipinos are big fans of grilled pork and chicken barbecue and are liable to make a beeline for any Noche Buena table that serves them. Grilled seafood such as Rellenong Bangus and mussels, are also crowd favourites.
Perhaps the most prominent dish of them all is the Lechon. People go gaga over this dish, (which calls for a whole pig to be roasted on an open charcoal pit) and its crispy, crunchy skin. After the party, left-overs can be turned into lechon paksiw. For those who do not have any roasting pits available or do not have a lot of time to cook, there’s Lechon Belly (which, unlike the traditional lechon, is roasted in an oven and is easier to cook.)
Noodles for long life
Of course, there should be a noodle dish, or two. There is the pancit, which comes in different kinds, for long life. For children, sweet spaghetti styled a la Jollibee is a perennial crowd pleaser. Those who prefer a more “adult” pasta dish opt for Creamy Carbonara Pasta or Pasta in Truffle Oil.
Salad is always a part of the menu in every Filipino celebration. Among the most popular are Buko, Chicken Macaroni and Fruit Salad.
One cannot mention Noche Buena without bringing up Chicken Macaroni Salad. This savoury noodle dish is quite easy to prepare – just mix macaroni noodle, chicken strip and mayonnaise. For more flavors, add ham, carrots and pineapple. This salad is good as a complement to any meat dish or on its own. It can even be turned into a dessert by adding fruit cocktails and condensed milk.
The Buko Salad is also a staple of any holiday table among Filipinos, because it is easy to prepare and is the perfect end to any meal.
Another star of the Noche Buena table is the Leche Flan. This custard confection is made of egg yolk, sugar and milk. Those who want to go traditional also add Bibingka and Puto Bumbong to the menu.
(For first timers who would like to try preparing these dishes themselves, check our Recipe Box for some of the recipes.)
Whatever you are having for the Noche Buena, there is nothing that spells Christmas more than having a meal with your loved ones.
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