Some foreign friends asked me the difference between Noche Buena and Media Noche in the Philippines. Well, here it is:
First, let us describe what Noche Buena is all about. It is a Spanish phrase that literally means “the Good Night”, and often refers to the biggest feast for the Christmas season. It is celebrated annually on the night of Christmas Eve (December 24). In Spain, Latin America, and the Philippines, it consists of a traditional family dinner, often with a roasted pig (called lechon in Filipino) as the center of the feast. This practice is believed to date back to the 15th century when Caribbean colonists hunted down pigs and roasted them with a powerful flame.
In the Philippines, the traditional dinner may start as early 10:00 pm, but is usually held at midnight of December 24, after the whole family hears the late evening mass, locally known as Misa de Gallo.
Some of the common dishes served, depending on one’s social status, are: jamon1, queso de bola2, lechon, pancit3, spaghetti, fried chicken, arroz caldo4, lumpia5, adobo6, relyenong bangus7 (stuffed milk dish), noodles/pasta, rice or breads (like pan de sal8), desserts (e.g., fruit salad, ube halaya9, bibingka10, kakanins11, ice cream, pastries, fruits, and beverages (tsokolate12, coffee, soft drinks, beer, wine, and juices).
The above information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Noche Buena”.13
Media Noche is the Spanish term for “midnight” but the Filipino practice during this time of year was influenced by the Chinese. The Filipino Media Noche is accompanied by fireworks (also from the Chinese) at the stroke of midnight to drive away bad spirits. Different kinds of food are served (again, influenced by the Chinese).14
In the Philippines, Media Noche refers to the lavish midnight feast on December 31 (called Bisperas ng Bagong Taon in Filipino) that may last until the following morning (January 1). It symbolizes each Filipino’s hopes for prosperity in the coming year, according to the Wikipedia page “Christmas in the Philippines”.15
Actually, anything can be served for Media Noche as long as the table is full of food and drinks. The assortment may include, among others: lechon, barbecue, Beef Caldereta16, Beef Mechado17, Buko Pandan18, cakes, Chicken Sopas19, Chicken Sotanghon20 Soup, Crema de Fruta21, Embotido22, Fruit Salad, Hamonado23, Ilokano bagnet24, Inihaw25na Bangus26, Inihawna Manok27, Inihawna Tilapia28, kakanins11 (Bibingka10, Biko29, Maja Blanca30, Palitaw31, and Puto Bumbong32), Kalderetang Manok33, Leche Flan34, Lengua Estofado35, Lumpiang Shanghai36, Macaroni Salad, Morcon37, Lumpiang Sariwa38, Paella, Pancit Malabon39, Patatim40, Pininyahang Manok sa Gata41, Relyenong Bangus7, Siomai42, Spaghetti, Ube Halaya9 and round fruits (like apples, grapes and oranges).
However, for those Filipinos who have a strong Chinese influence, this feast consists of the following:14
- Twelve (12) “round” fruits to symbolize prosperity for all the 12 months of the coming year. A round shape is the closest thing to a circle, a shape that does not have an end, which implies never-ending wealth. Thus, round fruits are as close as you can come to a circle. Examples are: grapes (eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight will give good luck for 12 months to come), or, pomegranates (since the seeds have always been associated with fertility and abundance in life).43
- Pineapple is the centerpiece since this fruit’s scales resemble gold coins, which imply wealth for the next year.
- Noodles for long life without illness, so do not cut or break them in the middle. Rice can also be served since it stands for fertility and wealth.43
- Sticky desserts are served so family members will “stick together” for years to come.
Chicken and fish are not served since these symbolize scarcity of food.
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The following terms are defined for interested readers, especially non-Filipinos, those with “Senior-Moments”, and those too busy to Google such terms:
1Jamon is the Spanish term for “ham”. The Filipinos serve honey-glazed cured ham during Noche Buena and Media Noche.
2Quezo de bola is a popular cheese served during the Christmas season in the Philippines (perhaps due to its red rind) and is a traditional treat for Noche Buena (the traditional midnight feast with one’s family at home during Christmas Eve). Queso de bola is usually served with cured ham and hot pan de sal8. NOTE: It is called Edam, originating from the Netherlands, named after the town of Edam in the province of North Holland. This cheese has a pale yellow interior and a red rind/coating made of red paraffin wax. Edam only hardens with age.
3Pancit is the Filipino term for noodles, introduced by the Chinese, and adopted into the local cuisine, with many regional variations. Some versions of this noodle dish are stir-fried, often with sliced meat, shrimps and assorted/chopped vegetables.
4Arroz caldo is a Filipino rice and chicken porridge or gruel, heavily infused with ginger, and garnished with toasted garlic, scallions, and black pepper, usually served with calamansi44, soy sauce, or patis (fish sauce) as condiments, as well as hard-boiled egg. Most versions also add kasubha (safflower) which turns this dish to turn almost yellowish. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Arroz caldo”.45
5 Lumpia is the Filipino term for “spring roll”. It is a savory dish made with a thin crepe pastry skin called “lumpia wrapper” enveloping a mixture of savory fillings, consisting of chopped vegetables (e.g., bamboo shoots, cabbage, carrot, green beans, leeks), or sometimes also minced meat (beef, chicken, pork and shrimp). It is often served as an appetizer or snack, and could be served deep fried or fresh (unfried). The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Lumpia”.46
6 Adobo is a Filipino version of the Spanish adobo/adobar, according to Wikipedia page “Adobo”.47 It was originally made by stewing meat (chicken and/or pork) in vinegar and soy sauce, with garlic, salt and bay leaves, sometimes with sliced potatoes. It is sometimes fried after stewing.
7 Relyenong Bangus is a Filipino dish literally “Stuffed Milkfish” where the fish is stuffed with a sautéed mixture of its own meat, along with precooked/chopped/cubed ingredients (like garlic, onions, tomatoes, ground pork, carrots, potatoes, sweet pickle relish, raisins, red bell pepper and beaten eggs), seasoned with salt and pepper, wrapped in banana leaves, then usually fried in a skillet. It can also be baked, brushed with oil, but without the banana leaf wrapping. What is great about this dish is that diners need not worry about fish bones!
8Pandesal is a common yeast-raised bread roll in the Philippines, traditionally made of flour, eggs, yeast, sugar, and salt, rolled in fine bread crumbs. It is commonly served hot during breakfast, and originally consumed by dipping in coffee or tsokolate12. It can also be enjoyed with butter/margarine, cheese, jam or peanut butter. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Pandesal”.48
9 Ube halaya is a Filipino dessert made from boiled and mashed purple yam (locally called ube). It is combined and thickened with condensed milk or coconut milk, along with melted butter/margarine, cooled, then typically placed on containers in various shapes, refrigerated, and served cold. It is can be eaten as is or as an ingredient in pastries and other desserts like ice cream and halo-halo. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Ube halaya”.49
10Bibingka is a traditional rice cake in the Philippines made of rice flour, coconut milk, eggs, milk and water, traditionally cooked in clay pots lined with banana leaves with preheated coals top and bottom, usually enjoyed during the Christmas season, served hot or warm for breakfast or as a dessert. Toppings include butter/margarine, sugar, cheese, grated coconut and salted duck eggs50.
11Kakanin is the Filipino term for a common native snack in the Philippines, consisting of various kinds of rice cakes. NOTE: Kakanin comes from the word “kanin”, meaning “prepared rice”.
12Tsokolate is a native Filipino thick hot chocolate drink made from tabliya, tablets of pure ground roasted cacao beans, dissolved in water and milk. It is traditionally made using a tsokolatera51and briskly mixed with a wooden baton called the molinillo52 (also called batidoror batirol), causing the drink to be frothy. It is typically sweetened with a bit of muscovado53, and has a distinctive grainy texture. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Tsokolate”.54
13“Noche Buena,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noche_Buena.
15 “Christmas in the Philippines,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_in_the_Philippines.
16Beef Caldereta is a Filipino dish similar to a spicy Spanish Beef Stew, made of beef, tomato sauce, vegetables (i.e., bell and hot peppers, carrots, green peas, olives, potatoes), and liver paste/spread, served during special occasions. Some areas in the country use goat meat, chicken or pork.
17Beef Mechado is the Filipino version of Beef Stew where beef is stewed in tomato sauce, along with spices, bell peppers, potatoes, carrots and green peas.
18Buko Pandan is a popular Filipino cold dessert made by using cubed green gelatin, flavored with the extract of pandan55 leaves or buko pandan flavoring and sugar, along with a mixture of condensed milk, cream, young coconut meat and tapioca.
19Sopas is the Filipino term for “milky macaroni soup” using elbow macaroni, meat (usually flaked chicken meat) and vegetables (carrots and celery), made creamy with evaporated milk. So, Chicken Sopas means “Creamy Chicken-Macaroni Soup”, served during breakfast, cold weather, or to sick people. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Sopas”.56
20Sotanghon is the Filipino term for “cellophane/glass noodles”, transparent noodles made from starch and water, according to the Wikipedia page “Cellophane noodles”.57 So, Chicken Sotanghon Soup is “Chicken-Glass Noodle Soup”, made of a thin but hearty soup made from chicken stock, flaked chicken meat, cellophane noodles, sautéed onions, garlic and kinchay (Chinese celery), vegetables (chopped carrots and napa cabbage), seasoned with salt, pepper and patis (fish sauce), colored with achuete (annatto), and topped with fried garlic bits, chopped green onions and sliced/halved hard-boiled egg.
21Crema de Fruta is a special Filipino cake made with layers of sponge cake, sweet custard or whipped cream, gelatin/agar, and different (canned or fresh) fruits (e.g., cherries, mangoes, peaches, pineapples, strawberries), usually served during the Christmas season, according to the Wikipedia page “Crema de fruta”.58
22Embotido is a Filipino steamed meatloaf, shaped like a thin log, made of a mixture of ground pork, chopped onions, carrots and red bell peppers, raisins, grated cheddar cheese, sweet pickle relish, bread crumbs or flaked bread, salt and pepper, and bonded by raw eggs. Hard-boiled eggs, Vienna sausage or hotdogs could be placed at the center of the roll so when it is sliced crosswise and arranged artistically in a serving platter, it would look attractive. It can be enjoy cold, but Filipinos sometimes fry this dish before slicing, and could be served warm, with (often banana) catsup as a dip.
23Hamonado is a popular and savory Filipino dish consisting of meat marinated and cooked in a sweet pineapple sauce, often served during the Christmas season. Typically, meat (usually fatty cuts of pork, beef or chicken) is marinated overnight in a sweet sauce made with pineapple juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, and various spices. It is then pan-fried until the meat is browned. The meat is then simmered in stock and the marinade with added pineapple chunks until the meat is very tender. It is best enjoyed on white rice. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Hamonado”.59
24Bagnet is a Filipino dish which is simply crispy fried pork rind, originating from the Ilocos Region, in northwestern Luzon, Philippines.
25Inihaw is the Filipino term for “grill” or “roast”.
26Bangus is the Filipino term for “milkfish”, with the binomial name Chanoschanos, according to the Wikipedia page “Milkfish”.60 So, Inihaw na Bangus is “Grilled/Roasted Milkfish”. NOTE: Bangus is not the official fish of the Philippines. In fact, there is no official national fish of the country.
27Manok is the Filipino term for “chicken” so Inihaw na Manok is “Grilled/Roasted Chicken”.
28Tilapia is a freshwater fish which inhabits shallow streams, ponds, rivers and lakes in temperate countries. In the Philippines, it is commonly called pla-pla and several species of tilapia are commercially grown in major lakes and rivers like Laguna de Bay, Taal Lake and Lake Buhi. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Tilapia”.61 So, Inihaw na Tilapia is “Grilled/Roasted Tilapia”.
29Biko is a kakanin11 or sweet rice cake from the Philippines which is made of coconut milk, glutinous rice, brown sugar, and usually topped with latik (either or both the coconut curds or the syrupy caramel-like variant). It is called sinukmani or sinukmaneng in southern Luzon. In Mindanao, it is called wagit in Maguindanao, wadit in Maranao, and wadjit in Tausug. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Biko (food)”.62
30Maja Blanca (coconut pudding) is a Filipino creamy white, delicately flavored rice cake made primarily from coconut milk/cream and cornstarch/agar mixture, along with corn kernels, milk, and sugar. It is then poured in greased (with coconut oil) serving dishes, topped with latik (browned coconut cream curds), and allowed to cool, refrigerated and served cold. It is usually served during fiestas or holidays, like Christmas. It has the consistency of a thick gelatin. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Maja blanca”.63
31Palitaw is a traditional, small, flat, usually circular or rectangular, sweet, sticky Filipino rice cake made from “malagkit” (sticky rice, which has been washed, soaked and ground), rolled and flattened, shaped like a thin tongue, then cooked by dropping into boiling water. When it floats/rises to the surface, it is finally done and prepared for service by dipping it in freshly grated coconut, white sugar and toasted linga64. NOTE: Palitaw comes from the Tagalog65 word “litaw”, meaning “float” or “rise”.
32Puto bumbong is a traditional cylindrical, purple/violet, Filipino, steamed, sticky rice cake made from pirurutong (glutinous rice flour, soaked in salted water and dried overnight) with violet coloring, placed into bumbong (bamboo tubes) attached to a lansungan (steamer) then steamed until done (i.e., when steam rises out of the bamboo tubes). The cooked sticky mixture is tapped out of the bamboo tubes, traditionally onto a banana leaf, with a dollop of margarine/butter, then topped with a mixture of freshly grated coconut and (muscovado53 or white) sugar. It is then wrapped and kept warm in a (thermal) container.
33Kalderetang Manok is a rich and flavorful Filipino chicken tomato-based stew, made of chicken, tomato sauce, vegetables (potatoes, carrots, green bell pepper, chili peppers), olives, cheese, and liver spread.
34Leche Flan, or“milk flan”, is a popular dessert for special occasions in the Philippines. It is usually a steamed (but can also be a baked) flan made of egg yolks and condensed milk, poured in oval-shaped (or desired shaped) metal pans with caramelized sugar at the bottom. Prior to serving, a knife is used to loosen the sides and then inverted on a serving platter so that the caramelized sugar will serve as topping and will flow on to its sides.
35Lengua Estofado is the Filipino version of Braised Beef Tongue in tomato sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, along with white wine, olives and bay leaves. Ox tongue is usually used and this dish is served during special occasions.
36Lumpiang Shanghai is the Filipino term for “Fried Bite-Sized Spring Rolls”, usually filled with ground pork/chicken, minced shrimp, water chestnuts, carrots, singkamas (jicama), and chopped green onions. It is then served with sweet and sour sauce or catsup.
37Morcon is a Filipino dish like a stuffed meat roulade, commonly served during special occasions like Christmas. It is made of thin sheets of beef (or pork), wrapped around hard-boiled eggs, ham, bacon, sausages (hotdog or chorizos), carrots, sweet pickles, cheese, pan-seared on high heat to brown its surface, then simmered in low heat in a braising liquid made of stock and tomato sauce, then finished off with other flavorings to serve as gravy/sauce. It is then sliced when cool.66
38Lumpiang Sariwa, literally “Fresh Spring Rolls”, is a Filipino vegetable dish, typically made from a sautéed mixture of julienned ubod (heart of palm), pork/tofu strips and/or chopped shrimps, garlic, onions, and cilantro, wrapped in a soft (unfried) crepe-like wrapper with fresh lettuce leaves, garnished with a sweet sauce (made of brown sugar, water, pork cube, crushed peanuts, thickened with cornstarch), and topped with freshly minced garlic.67
39Pancit Malabon is a type of pancit3 which originated in Malabon City, located in Metro Manila68, in the Philippines. It has a yellow-orange sauce due to the use of achuete (annatto seeds), combined with shrimp broth, patis (fish sauce) and crab fat. Local fresh seafood toppings may include cooked shrimps, squids, tinapa69, mussels and/or oysters. Other toppings are boiled strips of pork, hard-boiled duck/chicken eggs, crushed chicharon (pork rinds), sliced napa cabbage, chopped green onions, and lightly browned/sautéed minced garlic. It is similar to palabok (another kind of pancit3) but has thicker noodles. It is best enjoyed with patis (fish sauce) and calamansi44 (calamondin or Philippine lime) juice. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Pancit Malabon”.70
40Patatim is a Filipino Chinese-style dish where a whole pork leg is first seared to seal in the flavor, then slowly braised in a sweet-savory soy sauce mixture made of Shaoxing wine (a traditional Chinese wine made from fermented rice), star anise, bok choy (a type of Chinese cabbage) and mushrooms until the skin is very tender and the meat has an almost melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. NOTE: “Pata” is Spanish for “leg” and “tim” is the Chinese term for a cooking style of this dish.
41Pininyahang Manok sa Gata is a tasty Filipino dish which literally means “Pineapple Chicken in Coconut Milk”. The cut-up chicken is marinated in pineapple juice then cooked together with coconut milk, pineapple tidbits/chunks, sliced carrots, green and red bell peppers, chopped onions, minced garlic, and flavored with patis (fish sauce) and ground black pepper.
42Siomai is a traditional Chinese dumpling, usually served hot as a popular snack item in the Philippines. It is usually made of seasoned ground pork with bits of shrimp, mushrooms, and other preferred ingredients/seasonings. It is accompanied by a dip made of soy sauce and calamansi44.
44Calamansi is a small (about 30-mm in diameter), tangy-sour citrus fruit with a thin, green skin (which turns yellow-orange when ripe), with a yellow/orange pulp. The juice is used in various food and beverages as a major/minor ingredient, seasoning or dipping ingredient.
45“Arroz caldo,”accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arroz_caldo.
46“Lumpia,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumpia.
47“Adobo,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobo.
48“Pandesal,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandesal.
49“Ube halaya,”accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ube_halaya.
50A salted duck egg is a preserved food product made by soaking duck eggs in brine or packing the eggs in damp, salted charcoal. In the Philippines, the eggs are traditionally dyed red to differentiate it with fresh duck eggs. It is used as a topping for bibingka10, or mixed with chopped, fresh tomatoes and scallions, onions and fish sauce, as a side salad for fried fish.
51A tsokolatera is the Filipino term for chocolatera, a Spanish/Latin-American type of high-necked metal pot shaped like a pitcher used for the traditional preparation of tsokolate12, used in combination with a molinillo52 baton to froth the chocolate. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Chocolatera”.71
52A molinillo is a traditional turned wood whisk used in Latin America, as well as the Philippines, where it is called batidol or batirol. It is used primarily for the preparation of hot beverages like tsokolate12, held between the palms and rotated by rubbing the palms together, creating a frothy drink. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Molinillo (whisk)”.72
53Muscovado is a partially refined sugar with a strong molasses content and flavor. It is considered a healthy alternative to refined sugar due to higher levels of minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium). It is used in various food and confectionery, like puto bumbong32 in the Philippines.
54“Tsokolate,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsokolate.
55Pandan is a leaf used to flavor desserts and drinks like Buko Pandan, Maja Blanca and Gulaman. It comes from the genus Pandanus, according to the Wikipedia page “Pandanus”.73
56“Sopas,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sopas.
57“Cellophane noodles,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellophane_noodles .
58“Cream de fruta,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crema_de_fruta.
59“Hamonado,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamanado.
60“Milkfish,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milkfish.
61“Tilapia,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilapia.
62“Biko (food),” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biko_(food).
63“Maja blanca,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maja_blanca.
64Linga is the Tagalog65 term for sesame seeds. In the Philippines, it is toasted and used as a topping of palitaw31.
65Tagalog is a language spoken in Metro Manila68 and the provinces of Central Luzon(Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Zambales) and Southern Luzon (the CALABARZON Region, Marinduque and Mindoro) of the Philippines. Its standardized form is officially called Filipino, the national language of the country. It may also refer to the people who live in the aforementioned places.
68Metro Manila is the official and administrative urban area in the southwestern portion of Luzon surrounding Manila, established in 1975 through Presidential Decree No. 824. It is the capital region of the Philippines, the seat of government, and is officially called the National Capital Region (NCR), composed of 16 cities (Caloocan, Las Piñas, Malabon, Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Novotas, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, Quezon City, San Juan, Taguig, Valenzuela) and the municipality of Pateros. It is the center of culture, economy, education and government of the Philippines. The information was obtained from the Wikipedia page “Metro Manila”.74
69Tinapa is the Filipino term for “smoked fish”, often made from black fin scad (Alepesmelanoptera, locally called galunggong), or from bangus26 (milkfish), according to the Wikipedia page “Tinapa”.75
70“Pancit Malabon,” accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancit_Malabon.
71“Chocolatera,”accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolatera.
72“Molinillo (whisk),”accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molinillo.
73“Pandanus,”accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandanus.
74“Metro Manila,”accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metro_Manila.
75“Tinapa,”accessed December 12, 2018, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinapa.