Thursday, January 01, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A Starry, Starry Night in Vancouver -- Evoking the Philippine Christmas Spirit

We're very happy and excited to have once again been chosen to participate in Foodbuzz's 24, 24, 24 blog event. We're especially excited as we are showcasing a part of our heritage, Philippine/Filipino cuisine.

It's due in part to Robyn Eckhardt's wonderful writing on the Philippines and David Hagerman's wonderful photography -- on their blog, EatingAsia, and in the December 2008 issue of Saveur -- that we started to contemplate serving a Philippine-inspired dinner during the holidays.

The Christmas season is a protracted season in the Philippines, where we were born and raised. It traditionally lasts from December till January 6th, the Feast of the Magi. It is not uncommon in the Philippines to start singing Christmas carols as early as September! The common phrase is, "-Ber na naman, pasko na naman" ("It's Christmas time again, now that we're into the months ending in -ber.")

Our family traditionally holds our big Holiday Feast on the 31st of December, inviting as many as 80 people into our home. (We usually have a smaller Christmas Eve/Christmas Day party.)

In all our years in Vancouver (almost 20 years), this year 2008 would be the first time that we are explicitly holding a feast evocative of the Christmas/Holiday feasts in the Philippines.

parol made w/ capiz shells; image by Santos

Our holiday theme this year is inspired by the parol. The parol is a traditional star-shaped Christmas lantern hung in homes and most establishments in the Philippines during the holiday season. The parol evokes the Star of Bethelem, which guided the Magi towards the manger where the baby Jesus was born.

Our menu includes traditional and perhaps not-so-traditional Filipino and Filipino-Chinese dishes, inspired by the star-shaped parol.

We don't claim to know much about Filipino food, but we certainly did our best. =)

The Menu
In keeping with our parol theme, we tried to have either star-shaped ingredients, star-shaped finished products, or quintets or groups of five (for the five points of a star).

Pineapple Soda with Star Anise Syrup & Pomegranate Ice "Stars"

Mini Baby Bels, Cervelat Salami, Grapes, Crackers

Adobo Mushroom Tarts
Embutido (Philippine "Meatloaf")
Mangga Ensalada


Ginataang Green Beans with Bagoong
Star Corn

Plain Rice
Star Rice
Bagoong Rice

"Chinese Adobo" Clams & Oysters
Ginataang Adobo Trout

Lechon (Roast Pig)
Lechon Manok (Roast Chicken)
Five-Spice Roast Turkey

Green Papaya Atsara
Sinamak (Suka at Sili)
Lechon Sauce
Star Anise Cranberry Sauce

Ube (Purple Yam) Ice Cream Star Cake
Ube (Purple Yam) Halayan
Lime & Macapuno Bars

Salabat (Ginger Tea)

Photographs and details about the food below, of course.

The Setting

image by strandedwahine; definitely not at our home

In keeping with the parol theme, I had envisioned our home twinkling and glittering with parol lights. We attempted to purchase them, but they were quite hard to find here. We found a couple of small ones that cost more than $100 each! They were the ones made with capiz shells. But, at that cost, we couldn't justify buying even one.

I thought, why not make our own? I'm talking about the more "traditional" parol made with sticks/wire and papel de hapon (a paper similar to tissue paper).

Image on the right: traditional parols; photo by Keith Bacongco

I tried making this small one, but this was much harder than I anticipated. I can only get this far.

left: my mini parol, halted
right: mini stars

Then I thought, if not a real parol, then something star-shaped at least? I made folded stars in hopes of filling a container with them. It was taking far too much time so I had to stop. Those stars in the image above could only fill 1/4 of a small 200mL bottle!

Finally, I came up with the brilliant idea of outsourcing this parol-making task! That is, I asked CSC to make parol with the kids, as their craft project.

left: boss #1; right: boss #2

Here they are!

Well done, small bosses! Or, should I say, well done CSC! ;)

But, as you know, we are all about the food!

Let's begin.

Mini Baby Bels & Grapes
Mini Baby Bels remind us of queso de bola, a round ball of Edam cheese with a waxy red coating, very commonly found during Noche Buena meals in the Philippines.

Adobo Mushroom Tarts
We topped puff pastry with adobo-cooked mushrooms (soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns, bay leaves). Read the post here.

This is also a celebration food. It's a pork "meatloaf" with bell peppers, carrots, onions, raisins, pickle relish (among other things) and stuffed with hardboiled eggs and Vienna sausages. (Yes, another canned food favorite. I tell you we like our canned goods!) Read the post here.

Mangga Ensalada
We shamelessly ripped this off of the menu at Rekados. There are five items in this composed salad: pickled mangoes, tomatoes, hardboiled eggs, alliums (red & green onions) and of course, bagoong (shrimp paste).

We were especially scared of trying to make this at home! As far as we knew, nobody made this at home. Everybody seems to buy it off a Filipino caterer. But I think we know the secret now!

This is a classic Philippine noodle dish made with a seafood sauce colored with achiote, then topped with hardboiled eggs, shrimp, squid, fried pork rinds (yes, pork rinds!) fried tofu, fried garlic, green onions and lemon/lime wedges (for squeezing onto the dish).

Ginataang Green Beans with Bagoong
"Gata" is coconut milk and anything "ginataan" is cooked with coconut milk.

We cooked the green beans in a mixture of coconut milk, some ground pork, garlic, onions, some tomatoes and bagoong (shrimp paste). We added some masago towards the end for that "festive" touch.

Star Margarine!
Anybody who grew up in the Philippines knows Star Margarine. We couldn't help giggling when we saw this! How fortuitous that it's called Star in keeping with our parol theme! We had to get it and make 2 items.

Star Corn
We simply added Star Margarine to corn kernels. This reminded us of boiled corn we used to buy from street vendors after school. He would put Star Margarine on the corn, and we would always say, "Damihan niyo naman yung Star!" ("Please add more Star!")

Star Rice
Everyone went for this yellow-hued "Star Rice", remembering the TV commercial where one was supposed to add Star Margarine to rice.

Pampagana! Pampalusog! Pampatangkad!

That is, the ad claimed that it makes kids have more appetite, it makes them healthier and taller! =)

It's full of trans fatty goodness. Nobody has even seen Star Margarine in years. Decades, perhaps! =D

Plain Rice & Bagoong Rice
We had three kinds of rice. Plain rice, Star Rice above, and rice with some bagoong (shrimp paste) mixed in.

"Chinese Adobo" Clams & Oysters
We've been subject to Mama's "Chinese Adobo" all these years, so we thought we'd finally put it to use. She makes what she calls "adobo", but in reality, is a soy sauce based dish without vinegar! The sauce for the clams and oysters (halaan at talaba) was made with soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger and star anise. We like to think that the clam chells evoke the capiz shells used frequently to make parol. JS was adamant that the clams be not taken off the menu!

Ginataang Adobo Trout
This is a more classic adobo -- soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns, bay leaves -- but with more coconut milk. We paired it with steelhead trout, then topped the dish with fried garlic.

Five-Spice Roast Turkey
We did the same thing as our Christmas turkey, but added five-spice. It had that lovely, familiar, Chinese scent. Read all about our turkey experience here.

Lechon Manok
A classic Filipino way to cook chicken. The chickens were marinated in soy sauce and lime juice (traditionally, kalamansi juice). Then, they were stuffed with lemongrass and roasted. Read the post here.

Just an aside: Look at this madness! That below are 3 chickens, an 11-pound turkey and a 22-pound turkey!

JS wanted to make sure we had turkey leftovers since we were denied that after our Christmas dinner.

We had five condiments.

Green Papaya Atsara
A classic quick pickle made with green papaya, bell peppers, carrots and onions. The pickling liquid is flavored with garlic, black peppercorns, ginger and raisins.

Sinamak (Suka at Sili)
The classic chile-infused vinegar. Perfect with pork rinds, I might add. What else is good with this condiment?

Lechon Sauce
A liver-based sauce to go with Lechon and Lechon Manok. Usually, people would just open up a bottle of Mang Tomas Lechon Sauce. But JS made this from scratch: it's made with livers, onions, garlic, vinegar, black pepper and the very important sugar. Read the post here.

Star Anise Cranberry Sauce
We infused star anise into the simple syrup (sugar & water) before adding cranberries.

Not pictured.

Think we're done? No! There's still dessert!

Ube (Purple Yam) Halaya
Purple yam is often used in dessert applications in the Philippines. This is sometimes translated as ube "jam". It's simply ube cooked with sugar and coconut milk (I used coconut milk and cow's milk). I cut them into star-shapes to decorate my cake.

Ube (Purple Yam) Ice Cream Star Cake
This star-shaped cake was made from ube ice cream, another very popular item. Ube ice cream bought commercially is usually very, very purple, a product of food coloring no doubt. I made this ube ice cream with real ube and the result was a very light purple. I decorated the cake with whipped cream and my star-shaped ube halayan.

A showstopper! This is a rice cake with coconut milk and cooked in banana leaves, then topped with grated coconut, cheese, and salted duck eggs. We blogged about it here before. We only made two bibingka, but had to make 2 more after dinner because of popular demand!

Other guests also brought dessert items like cassava cake and mango pudding. Unwittingly, they brought Philippine-themed items!

Salabat (Ginger Tea)
And finally, to evoke a Philippine Christmas, the heady scent of a hot ginger-infused drink. I infused ginger into water and added brown sugar. This drink is classically associated with the cooler mornings after midnight mass. Patrons would warm themselves with this drink as they leave the church. Read the post here.

Whew! That's a lot of food!

I think we now realize or remember why we seldom do Filipino-themed dinners for a large party: there is a lot of prep work!

But, we went all out on this out because we wanted this feast to be BONGGA!!! Teehee. (Non-translatable, as far as we know.)

(Maybe the closest to "bongga" would be "bling" as in "bling-bling"? For "bongga," think gold-glittery, almost to the point of garishness.)

Up next, "behind the scenes" of this Starry, Starry Night, because you know preparing for a dinner this size is bound to have some kinks. Included will be information on some missing items, like the lechon (roast pig)! And hey, wasn't there supposed to be a pineapple soda of some sort? And more dessert?

Also to follow are information on individual dishes, but it may take a few days (or weeks!). This is our quickie post. Mind you, this feast was on New Year's Eve and this post had to be in by New Year's Day!

Read Starry, Starry... Pig? here, the story of the lechon for the party.

Information on a Philippine Christmas

[eatingclub] vancouver 24, 24, 24 posts:
Behind the Scenes -- The Making of Artisan Gelato
A Starry, Starry Night in Vancouver -- Evoking the Philippine Christmas Spirit
Iron Chef -- Battle of the Recipes (Part 1, The Battle)
Iron Chef -- Battle of the Recipes (Part 2, Tasting and Judging)

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[eatingclub] vancouver Filipino food
Mama's Ampalaya (Bitter Melon)
Faux Kamote-Que
Philippine-Style Chicken "BBQ"
Fried Hasa Hasa (Mackerel)
"Savory" Chicken Wings
Sinamak (Chile-infused Vinegar)
Pan-roasted Halibut w/ Fava Beans, Potato-Onion Cakes & Bagoong Butter Sauce
Bulalo & Bangus: an even simpler Filipino meal
Baked Tahong (Mussels)
Adobo Kangkong (Adobo Water Spinach)
Oyster Torta (Oyster Omelette)
Chicken Tinola (Chicken Soup w/ Green Papaya & Pepper Leaves)
(Chinese) Roast Pork Belly / Lechon
Tilapia wrapped in Banana Leaves
Pork Belly, Two Ways
Chicken Adobo
Salabat (Ginger Tea)
Lechon Manok (Philippine Roast Chicken) & Lechon Sauce
"Chinese Adobo" Clams and Oysters
Bistek (Citrus Beef with Caramelized Onions)
Beef Kaldereta (Beef Stew with Bell Peppers)
Atsara (Green Papaya Pickle)
Sardinas na Bangus (Milkfish in the style of Sardines) and Pressure Cooker Fear


  1. You don't need to ask for eaters, I'll gladly fly up to experience all that. Great menu. I don't know if I have room to squeeze in even a fraction of that. I love the capiz shell parol. So pretty!

  2. Napaka sarap ng inyong luto! What a great table of eats! Here’s wishing you both a Happy New Year full of more delicious eats. I’m looking forward to future posts from [eatingclub] Vancouver in 2009!

  3. You guys are amazing! Can't wait for some recipes. Happy New Year!

  4. Oh Lord...this looks like some kinda feast!


  5. What a spectacular feast! I love that you carried the star theme as far as you could possibly stretch it...bling, bling. And, it's great that the little ones get involved so, hopefully, one day they will pass the tradition on the generation below them.

  6. What a feast! I'm particularly intrigued by the hens filled with lemon grass

  7. What a great idea! It looks like you had fun doing it, too. Happy New Year!

  8. I'm so sad...

    sad that I couldn't be there to participate in this feast! You are awesome, and this menu is awesome.


  9. WOW, BONGGA talaga! :)
    I made palabok too for christmas, it was so popular, my family requested it again for new year's.
    Awesome menu, great job and wished I was one of your eaters.
    Happy 2009 TS & JS, looking forward to all your many delicious posts!

  10. i *LOVE* ginger tea... it's the only cure for colds (for me, anyway, LOL).

    the lemongrass in the chicken was new to me, so thanks for that ~ i will certainly be stealing that idea! :)

    oh, and the fried garlic... wow. i love filipino food w/ a passion, but what absolutely makes it is the fried garlic... funny story (will try to be quick): when i was an exec chef for an off-premise catering company, my catering director unwittingly added fried garlic to the top of her chocolate-molten fudge-whipped cream cake, thinking it was diced pecans (they were both in ziplocs in the walk-in and she was too in a hurry to read the labels) ~ once i brought it to her attn it was too late, but guess what? PEOPLE FELL ALL OVER THEMSELVES FOR THAT CAKE!!! she said the people at the party went back for seconds and thirds and wanted the recipe... it still makes me lol ~ but fried garlic is so sweet, i can see how it blended in...

    anyway, happy new year [ts] & [js]!

  11. What an incredible feast. I sure wish I was there to sample. Great job for this event.

  12. Bongga kayo 'day! Awesome spread, you guys. My faves would have to be the embutido (yummmmee), lechon manok of course, and the bibingka. Can't get enough of the sweet-salty goodness! The corn sounds delish too. What's funny is that Star Marg is so far removed from the taste of butter or margarine! It's its own entity!

  13. Everything is so tempting! I like Palabok the most! Amazing article as usual!

  14. What a nice theme for a dinner. I'm definitely craving some bibingka right now.

  15. congrats on the feature, what a feast!!

  16. Wow, so much food, a real and great feast! Happy New Year!

  17. my oh myyyyy what a gorgeous xmas! full of delicious food! i miss manila! (rita pls stop using exclamation marks)

    sorry but i was just too excited!!!

  18. oh yes. gotta love a filipino feast. and the crushed chicharron on the palabok is key. my favorite!

  19. Wandering Chopsticks:
    Awww. Actually, I couldn't get all items on one plate. So yeah, perhaps the menu *was* a little *too* extensive. ;D We miss parols! Haven't thought about them much (at all?) until we came up with the theme for the dinner.

    Thanks! Hope you had a great nea Year's!

    Thanks. =) We'll be posting about some of these dishes soon.

    Joan Nova:
    Haha, JS even wante to force every single dish to be some sort of "star" shape! That would really have been a stretch!

    Ah, the lechon manok! It's very comforting with its familiar fragrance of soy sauce and citrus. Will post about it.

    Thank you! Maybe someday someone wil organize a blogger potluck... everybody bring a dish! =)

    Hahahaha... everytime I hear.see BONGGA, I can't help but laugh.

    This was the first time we made palabok and we're glad it turned out OK! JS wanted to do a test run before the party, but I said NO because I was too lazy. =)

    Thanks for the greeting! Believe it or not, there were few takers of the ginger tea. Oh well. Also, funny re the fried garlic on the cake. People still think it's strange when I mix my sweet and savory together! But it really does taste good. =)

    Thanks! We were so tired afterwards, actually! Haha.

    "Bongga ka ;day bongga taas ang kilay!" Is that how that goes?

    This is our first time making a lot of these things! Embutido, palabok, lechon manok... good thing it all turned out OK. Pwede na kaming magyabang, in terms of Filipino food. ;D

    Exactly! That Star margarine has a trans fatty deliciousness all its own! Everybody who had a taste of the rice stopped in their tracks and you can see it in their faces when they realized what that flavor was. Teehee.

    Thank you! Although, I think your 24, 24, 24 post was a lot more work! =)

    This is the first time we've had Filipino food as our theme. We're more "confident" cooking it now. =) That bibingka was good. [sigh]


    Mochachocolata Rita:
    Haha... it's OK!!! You can use as many excalamtion marks as you want!!! I am that way sometimes too!!!

    Happy Jack:
    And the good thing is, we ate more chicharron with vinegar after dinner too. Teehee.

  20. Here are pics of Capiz Parols:


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