The recipes in this blog were handed down from my aunt and other family members and friends. I do not know where they originated but I would like to imagine that they came from my Lola Alfonsa who, in her time, was legendary for her culinary arts. Any similarities to your own recipe is purely coincidental and not intentional. The rights to this blog and its contents are reserved by the writer and may not be reproduced without written consent from the writer. However, you are free to use the recipes for personal use. Products resulting from these recipes may not be sold commercially.

Doña Alfonsa Garcia Sabalvaro

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Simbang Gabi, Puto Bumbong, Bibingka - Pasko na!

As in every other town and neighborhood in the Philippines, in the early morning hours of the 9th day before Christmas, we were roused by the sounds emanating from the Musikong Bumbong (marching band) parading through our streets in Santa Cruz, Manila. This, along with the distant bells of Santa Cruz Church, was the call for all to attend the simbang gabi (dawn mass) and the official start of the Christmas season. It is the tradition in our family for the entire household to attend the nine early morning masses leading up to the most anticipated of church celebrations, the misa de gallo at Christmas Eve. There is always the excitement of waking up in the wee hours of the morning, donning our sweaters to ward off the chill of the Baguio-like early morning air, and being pulled along by our yayas for the few blocks walk to church amidst the bantering between neighbors and friends. This would often prove a little much for us children, as we would find ourselves asleep even before the priest delivers his sermon. But towards the end of the mass, our excitement is fueled again with the thought of what happens after the service. As we exit the church, there out on the dimly lit church plaza are vendors hawking candles, stampitas (prayer cards), toys and sampaguita leis. And then, there are the food stalls lit by candles, gaseras (gas lamps) and  the fires coming out of the clay ovens where salabat (hot ginger tea), thick hot chocolate, bibingka (rice cake) and my favorite, puto bumbong (elongated purple rice cake steamed in bamboo tubes) are prepared.

Our yayas will always bring an extra egg or two for the vendor to add to the galapong (sweet rice flour) batter to make our bibingkas fluffier. We wait in anticipation as the bibingka is cooked with hot coals sandwiching the batter placed on a clay pan lined with banana leaves. We always ask for the special bibingka with kesong puti (white country  carabao's milk cheese) and itlog na maalat (salted eggs) added on top of the batter before cooking.  The hot bibingka is served brushed with butter or margarine on top with a generous serving of freshly grated coconut and dusting of sugar. Usually the same stall also makes puto bumbong. The ground purple sweet glutinous rice meal (pinururutong) is steamed in a puto bumbong maker and served on a bed of banana leaves liberally slobbered with Star Margarine which tantalizingly melts from the heat of the puto bumbong topped with freshly grated coconut and muscovado (unrefined brown sugar). My mouth just waters just thinking about it.

When we moved back to the US, I never felt that my Christmases were complete because I missed the simbang gabis and puto bumbongs. Apparently, many other expats felt the same way and started the tradition of Simbang Gabi here in the states. In Chicago, it is a big deal and involves a year of planning, fund raising and practicing. Nine area churches are chosen to host each of one of these mass vigils. Usually, for authenticity, a Filipino priest is invited to officiate. The entire Filipino church community is involved from grandparents to newborns, which are customarily picked to play the role of baby Jesus at the Christmas pageant. Where only Filipinos attended the simbang gabis in the past, people from other ethnicities are now participating. Perhaps, our simbang gabi reminds them of their own Christmas rituals from their own old country and eases their homesickness as well. After mass, with the church bells ringing, the attendees are ushered into the church meeting hall where everyone is treated to a Christmas show put together by Filipino parishioners of the host church featuring haranas (serenades), Christmas carols and folk dancing while partaking in a bevy of Filipino food & delicacies. During this time, I close my eyes and imagine myself at the plaza of Santa Cruz Church. Hark; I can almost hear the Musikong Bumbong.

My sister-in-law surprised me with a pasalubong (homecoming gift)  from her recent trip to the Philippines with a bumbonera (puto bumbong maker). I am determined to make some for Christmas.
I've experimented with recipes and this is the one where I had the best success.

Puto Bumbong


1 cup purple or black glutinous sweet rice (available at Asian Markets)
2 cups salted water
Muscovado (raw sugar)
Grated fresh coconut
Star margarine (Available at Filipino stores, you may substitute any available butter or margarine but Star Margarine does impart a distinctive taste)

Cooking Instructions:

  • Soak purple or sweet black glutinous sweet rice  in salted water overnight.
  • Grind the softened soaked rice to a fine mealy consistency (I used a food processor).
  • Wrap the ground glutinous rice in a piece of muslin cloth and place it in a strainer to drain excess liquid. You can place a  heavy object over the muslin cloth to hasten the draining
  • Bring water in steamer pan to boil.
  • Steam rice meal in the bamboo tubes (bumbong) for 10 minutes until cooked
  • Shake out the contents of each bamboo tube  or remove the cooked glutinous rice from the bumbong with the help of a knife, retaining the elongated shape of the cooked rice
  • Spread butter or margarine on the puto bumbong
  • Add a small amount of grated coconut and muscovado before serving on a banana leaf


To make bibingka, I just buy a boxed Bibingka mix made by White King, follow the directions and it turns out great every time..... I bake them  on pans lined with banana leaves. Of course, I garnish the bibingka with kesong puti, itlog na maalat and even some keso de bola, plus grated coconut, margarine or butter and a dusting of sugar to add sweetness. . Shhh, my lola might be watching.........

Kakain na!