A true Filipino Christmas is never complete without the beloved bibingka.
Bibingka is a native rice cake topped with cheese and salted egg baked over hot coals in a clay oven and served with butter, sugar and grated coconut. It is very popular during the Holidays but it’s virtually available back home anytime of the year.
I grew up enjoying this sweet treat, which brings back so many memories of Christmases past. Since I have this strong urge to indulge and, disappointingly, I could not find a decent place in the city that makes them, I decided to make bibingka myself. It’s technically not from scratch since I planned on using store-bought rice cake mix but I figured, I would use banana leaves, which would bring the level of complexity a few notches higher.
And so I drove to Manila Oriental Market, my newest discovery in the city. It’s a huge Filipino supermarket that sells pretty much all things Filipino, from notorious duck eggs to freshly baked pan de sal. I got myself a White King bibingka mix, eggs and butter. We had confectioner’s sugar at home and so I was fine. And I also bought frozen banana leaves for under a buck. I thought about getting salted eggs and coconut to grate but I decided to keep it simple for now.
Here are the ingredients.
1 250 g pack White King bibingka mix
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup water
4 tbsp melted butter
Beat 3 eggs, add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour the mixture into ramekins lined with banana leaves. Top with slices of cheese. Fairly simple, right? I used four 5-inch ramekins and topped the cakes with a really sharp cheddar cheese.
Preheat the oven at 450F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. The White King box says it’s okay to broil but don’t. I broiled my cakes on my first try and burned them! Apple pie déjà vu!
Brush with some butter and serve hot.
I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted, seriously. Dennis enjoyed it a lot, too. He got a kick out of the banana leaves, which I must say made it even better. Well, next time I want to try it with salted eggs and some grated coconut. Or better yet, I want to try the real thing. It’s time to plan a trip back home.
By the way, I was completely surprised to find out that bibingka is a close relative to the Indian dessert bebinca, a pudding made of flour, sugar, butter and coconut milk. The dessert is also popular in Portugal and Mozambique.
I have spent many Christmases away and this year will not be any different as Dennis, Stanford and I are spending Christmas in the city. But I still feel a little homesick when this time of the year comes. Christmas is huge back home, filled with traditions and brimming with Mom’s great food. Plus I particularly love the fact that the festivities are stretched two weeks out with more food and more presents over New Year’s and my birthday in January. As the youngest and the only boy in a family of eight, I fancied the lavish attention when I was growing up.
To shake off the holidays blues, I decided to seek out food in the city that reminds me of home and make up a list of my own favorite Filipino comfort food. At the top of my list is a plateful of fresh, crispy, and juicy Jollibee Chickenjoy.
Growing up back in Manila, a trip to Jollibee with my Mom and sisters was more than a treat, it was an event. My family wasn’t well-off and I certainly looked forward to the rare times when we would treat ourselves to fried chicken with rice, and french fries if we were lucky. My sister, Vangie, actually started her restaurant career at Jollibee. She would bring home goodies like burgers and fries every now and then and I would stay up late to wait for her when she worked the night shift. And when my sister, Liz, bought a tiny second-hand Toyota, we would cram five people and drive to pick Vangie up at Jollibee and get free vanilla and chocolate fudge sundaes on the way home.
Those were the days.