As a Filipino born and raised in Southern California, I've often viewed Christmastime in the Philippines with much wonderment and awe. Now, I've never witnessed the holidays firsthand in the Philippines, but my mother often regales my brothers and I with stories of month-long celebrations, huge feasts with family and friends, and Christmas caroling "back home."
Even though Christmas caroling is a practice long extinct here in the U.S. (I probably wouldn't answer my door if I knew carolers were outside), I'm admittedly quite jealous of all the merriment and eating that goes on in the Philippines leading up to, and moving right on through Christmas. For instance, my cousins in the Philippines usually all gather together for Noche Buena and dine on an array of dishes that include lumpia, noodles, stuffed chicken, ham and/or lechon, sweet rice cakes, and a whole bunch of other things of which I'm jealous. And that's just for one night on Christmas Eve! Even weeks before Christmas there's a whole lot more going on that I can't even wrap my head around.
Luckily for us here in the U.S., the spirit of Christmas in the Philippines is captured in the pages of the December issue of Saveur Magazine (thanks to MarketMan for the heads up). Although I've found some mention of Filipino food in magazines like Sunset, this month's Saveur perhaps provides the most coverage given to Filipino food in a mainstream "foodie" publication. And it's about time.
In fact, Saveur dedicates nine (NINE!) pages of text and pictures to Filipino food and traditions under the title of "Days of Feasting: Home Cooking--Lot's Of It--Is the Lifeblood of Christmas Celebrations in the Philippines". Not surprisingly, the thoughtful words and beautiful pictures in Saveur are provided by Robyn and Dave from Eating Asia.
In the article, Dave sets the scene with his wonderful photography while Robyn describes in great detail the time they spent, and the food they ate, in the Philippines during Christmas last year. Here's a snippet from the article:
"It was the occasion of the first misa de gallo (morning mass) of the Christmas season in the Philippines, the sprawling archipelago of more than 7,000 islands in the western Pacific Ocean. Starting nine days before Chrismas and stretching on until the Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6, millions of churchgoing Filipinos--nearly 80 percent of the citizens of this former Spanish colony are practicing Catholics--embark on a series of spirited, family-style and communal feasts."
In addition, there are also four wonderful Filipino recipes provided in the article for Pinakbet (Philippine Vegetable Stew), Ensaimada (Philippine-Style Brioche), Chicken Adobo, and Ulang Sa Gata (Prawns in Coconut Milk).
I actually made the Ulang Sa Gata from the Saveur recipe and found that it was as easy to prepare as it was delicious. To make it, all you really have to do is saute some garlic and onions, then throw in a bit of vinegar, patis, and coconut milk and then simmer that all together with head-on shrimp.
Shrimp in Coconut Milk
If you'd like the exact recipe for the Shrimp in Coconut Milk, or the other dishes I mentioned earlier, it's very much worth it to pick up the December issue of Saveur. If the recipes aren't enough, I do encourage you to pick up Saveur as you will also learn a bit about Filipino food and culture.
And sure, the wife and I do get into the holdiay spirit at my parents' house every Christmas Eve. We go to Midnight Mass, tuck in to some warm and comforting Arroz Caldo, and perhaps even open a few presents. And although I'm very grateful for my family's own mini version of Noche Buena, I can't help the feeling that we're just not feasting and eating the way we could be feasting and eating.
One of these Decembers, I hope to find myself in the Philippines.