Dissecting the classic Noche Buena spread

AJPress Illustration by Jillian Peñalosa

IF the long list of Christmas trends and traditions was any indication, Filipinos love celebrating the yuletide season. Be it decorating the house with lanterns and ornaments as early as the Ber months begin, going Christmas caroling, or completing Simbang Gabi, Filipinos are known to never run out of ways to signify the festivities.

However, nothing marks the season more than preparing the Noche Buena spread.

Noche Buena, which is Spanish for “night of goodness,” is an important Filipino custom that brings together two of Filipinos’ most beloved things: food and family.

After attending the last Mass of Simbang Gabi on Christmas Eve, Filipinos go back home to a large feast adorning the dining table. The spread of various dishes is then shared with their extended families and invited friends as they welcome Christmas Day.

And while every Noche Buena spread is different, there are still a couple of staple dishes that you’re likely to find in every Filipino household. Here are some of them:

Christmas ham or hamon – this mainstay dish is not only found on dinner tables, but in Christmas care packages gifted to friends and/or employees, as well. The hamon is usually marinated in pineapple juice, sugar, salt and spices, for that sweet and savory flavor all Filipinos crave.

Keso de bola – this ball of Edam cheese, which usually has a red paraffin wax covering, is the perfect companion for the beloved hamon.

Lechon – no Filipino festivity is ever complete without lechong baboy (roasted pig). This popular delicacy is usually stuffed with spices such as lemongrass, garlic, onions, laurel, ground black peppercorn, and salt, and then roasted on a large bamboo spit over an open fire. Filipino lechons are also popular for their perfectly crispy skin, and flavorful tender meat.

Kakanin – sweet, sticky, and rice-based cakes like bibingka and puto bumbong are the crowd favorites especially after attending Simbang Gabi, but these also never leave the dining table during Noche Buena.

Lumpiang shanghai – this finger food is the Filipino version of spring rolls. Deep-fried and stuffed with ground pork, green onions, carrots, and water chestnuts, this crunchy bite-sized dish is everyone’s favorite appetizer to eat before the main dish.

Fruit salad – this one is the Filipinos’ choice dessert for the holiday season. It’s very easy to make: just mix a drained canned fruit cocktail with cream and sweetened condensed milk in a large container, refrigerate it for a few hours, and you’re good to go.

The Noche Buena is the most-anticipated dinner gathering of the year, and with all these dishes served on the table, it’s easy to see why. But more than that, the highlight of Noche Buena is being able to share the feast with your family, bonding over good food, stories, and love.

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