In fact, most Filipinos start their count downs two months before the blessed day arrives. The closer the day gets, the more excited people feel. Mornings are greeted with a palpable coolness in the air. Come nightfall, colorful bright lights are lit one by one. Lamp posts are strewn in dancing lights and the city streets are bathed in the flickering glow of lively lanterns.
As soon as the first of November passes, people around the country prepare for the Christmas season. Christmas trees are decorated and garlands are hoisted around doorways and windows. Even in the smallest of ways, Filipinos try to put up little signs that Christmas is, indeed, around the corner.
One of the many things that Filipinos look forward to is “Simbang Gabi” or the nights when people attend masses held all week long. Flocks of church goers fill the streets and nights preceding December 25th become livelier than ever.
Aside from attending the mass, people also look forward to the smell of “puto bumbong” that floats in the air surrounding the church. It is, afterall, one of the most popular dishes that signal the days before Christmas.
Puto Bumbong is a staple Christmas dish made out of varieties of rice and coconut. Its signature violet color and cylindrical shape also sets it apart from other rice cakes served year-round.
It is traditionally cooked in bamboo tubes, giving it its unique shape. Most Filipinos buy puto bumbong from street vendors who seem to pop out only during this special season, which is why it is highly anticipated by many.
This is the busiest time of the year for the vendors; long lines of excited church-goers await their turn as sellers frantically wait for the whistle that passes through the bamboo tubes, signalling that the rice cake is cooked. As soon as they hear this whistle, the rice cake is shaken loose from the tube and served with a side of shredded coconut and sugar. Butter or margarine is also added for that extra goodness.
It’s amazing how much food can instantly transport us into a certain period of time, especially food that is served during the most special occasions. Despite it being a humble, inexpensive dish, many Filipinos will still choose this over extravagant dishes due to the years of good memories it brings back. But cook puto bumbong during the summer and it just won’t be the same!
By AYEZA KAMILLE MALLARI, ASEAN Correspondent from Philippines