Of Simbang Gabi and Rice Cakes

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Simbang Gabi and rice cakes goes hand in hand for a lot of Filipinos!

It is hard to get out of bed in the wee hours of the morning in December. That is why, if you want to complete one of Pinoy’s most loved and cherished Christmas tradition, the 9 novena mass of the Simbang Gabi, you’ll need the help of your extended family, barkada and friends to drop by your house and wake you up.

A big portion of Simbang Gabi goers are young people, especially teen-agers. The morning air will be filled with their laughter while they go out in droves towards the nearest Church or Chapels.

Simbang Gabi became popular with the Filipinos, for the reason that, based on tradition,  your wish will come true if you make some sacrifice by waking up early and going to Mass for 9 straight days. Of course the Church doesn’t want the churchgoers to believe that superstition and part of every priest’s homily is telling the people the true importance of Simbang Gabi and its relation to Christmas – and that is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

But one should not despair if the superstition is not true, for those who sacrificed by waking up early and braving the chill of the December mornings will be greatly rewarded after each Simbang Gabi Mass.

For during Simbang Gabi, entrepreneurs set up stalls outside the church and make Puto Bumbong, Bibingka, Suman, Biko or Sinukmani and other local delicacies. Church goers will be greeted by the whistles of puto bumbong cookers, and the sweet smell of burning banana leaves coming from bibingka ovens after the morning mass.

Puto bumbong is made up of grounded glutinous rice, coconut milk and sugar. Unlike other rice cakes, puto bumbong is colored violet. What adds to its charm is how it is cooked.

Puto Bumbong

The puto bumbong mixture is placed inside a narrow bamboo tube, and the tube is then connected vertically in a metal tube that continuously spews hot steam from a water boiler. Steam coming out of the bamboo tube creates a funny whistling sound. Once cooked, the tube is tapped by hand to release its contents.

A serving of puto bumbong usually contains 2 pieces of the purple rice cake with some freshly grated coconut, sugar and margarine and is served in banana leaves. Puto bumbong is usually sold only during the Christmas season.

Bibingka is probably the most popular version of the rice cake family. Made of grounded rice, sugar and coconut milk and some strips of young coconut meat, the bibingka mixture is then placed in circular trays lined with banana leaves. Bibingka ovens are different from ordinary ovens.

The bibingka mixture is placed inside a small clay or metal oven then a metal plate containing hot coals and coconut husks is placed on top of the oven and serves both as the heat source and the oven cover as well. You can tell if the bibingka is already done, when you start to smell the sweet scent of burning banana leaves. Special versions of bibingka have cheese and salted eggs for toppings.

And of course, a simbang gabi breakfast of bibingka and puto bumbong is not complete without a cup of steaming hot Salabat or ginger tea.

Ahhhhh… the Christmas feels is so strong!!!


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