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Traditional Noche Buena fares in every Filipino household

Titilaok Dec 01,2013 0 Comments

Words by: Shiena Iane Bernardino

The Noche Buena table

The Noche Buena table

Christmas is coming!

The most festive time of the year is almost here. Every Filipino, whether in the country or any other part of the world, will be busy wrapping up gifts for their loved ones or decorating their houses to heighten the holiday cheer. But probably the busiest time during the holidays would be Christmas Eve when each family’s kitchen experts work their magic to come up with the most delectable dishes to serve during the Noche Buena.

For the Filipinos, Noche Buena is part of a very long tradition that started way back during the Spanish colonization era. The term itself is Spanish, which means “Christmas Eve.” It is usually observed by families after attending the Misa de Gallo, or the Rooster’s Mass.

Though the Filipinos have already incorporated a few modern touches in their holiday celebrations, sharing a hearty Noche Buena feast with the family will never go out of style. It is the highlight of the country’s Christmas season.

And of course, a Filipino Christmas family feast will always include sumptuous, traditional fares that are cooked with love. Each family has its own traditional recipes that have been passed down from one generation to the next. While the menu varies in each Filipino home, there are staple dishes that will always be present in everybody’s table during the Noche Buena.

Here are a few of the most traditional fares served during Christmas Eve’s meal:

Sweet Holiday Ham

Dubbed as the star of the Noche Buena, big and juicy sweet ham is always served at every Filipino table during Christmas get-togethers. Though one can easily buy their favorite prepared ham in the supermarkets, traditional families would still choose to come up with their own version of this holiday staple.

This is a simple recipe for sweet holiday ham from
-3 kilos (pigue or hita) pig’s leg without the bones; select one with the skin and fat intact
- 9 tbsp sugar
- 8 tbsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp MSG or vetsin (optional)
- 2 tsp Prague powder (instead of saltpeter or salitre)

• Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl.
• Rub the seasoning well into the meat. Set aside the seasoned meat in a glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate for one day.
• Tie the ham tightly into a ball with string (I use cotton crochet string). Remove/drain the meat juices that were left in the glass bowl and set aside for injecting.
• Using a huge syringe (you can buy a large syringe in most drugstores for
a reasonable cost), inject the flavored
meat juice all around the ham in small
• Set the ham aside in the glass bowl (covered) inside the refrigerator. Repeat the injecting process every day until no juices remain.

Keep the ham inside a plastic bag in the freezer for a month or more.

To cook the ham:
• Add enough pineapple juice to cover the ham at about 3/4 level (not quite to the top of the ham).
• Add the following:
Brown sugar, just enough to sweeten the pineapple juice mixture
Bay leaves
Crushed garlic
• Cook the mixture in a heavy, teflon- type pot over a low fire until the meat becomes tender. Make sure that the meat doesn’t get burned. You can prevent over-browning by turning the meat from time to time.
• Cool the meat and slice into pieces.

If you want a drier ham, put the ham in a glass dish (pyrex) before cooling and slicing. The meat, however, will shrink considerably and will be a little tough (almost like beef jerky consistency).


Any type of relleno, whether fish or chicken, is always shared between family members during Christmas Eve dinner. Anyone who will dare to cook it has to put a lot of time and effort in its preparation alone. That is why most families opt to serve it during very special occasions, such as the celebration of the birth of Christ.

This is a traditional Chicken Relleno recipe from
Ingredients :
- A large whole chicken, at least 2 kg. in weight, deboned
- 1/2 kilo of ground chicken meat (you can substitute pork)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup of finely sliced onion leaves
- 1 chorizo de bilbao, finely chopped
- 2-3 tbsp of sweet pickle relish
- 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3 slices of day-old bread, cut into small pieces and soaked in 2 tbsp of milk
- salt
- pepper

Procedure :
Season the deboned chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. Let sit in the fridge for a few hours.

To make the stuffing, just mix together the onion, onion leaves, sweet pickle relish, ground chicken or pork, chopped chorizo de bilbao, beaten egg and bread. Season with about a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of ground pepper.

Take the chicken from the fridge. Lay it flat on a large plate, breast side up. Fold the neck skin and tuck it underneath. Spoon the stuffing into the cavity. When half the stuffing is in, take the hard-boiled eggs and arrange them in a row along the middle of the cavity. Spoon the remaining stuffing in. Pull the skin on the tail end so that very little of the stuffing is exposed.

Carefully slide the stuffed chicken onto the roasting rack. Roast in a preheated oven at 170 degrees Celsius for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

These dishes are just some of the most popular Noche Buena fares in every Filipino family. Others may have their own versions of the Christmas feast, but these dishes, or versions of them, have been part of everyone’s festive holiday dinner.


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