8 Filipino Christmas dishes you won't find anywhere else in the world

The Philippines has the world’s longest Christmas season — and some of the most unique festive dishes to go along with it.

  • Alison Goh and Syafii Ghazali
  • December 2019

The months of September through December are referred to as the “ber” months in the Philippines, and its arrival heralds the start of Christmas. “Any Filipino will tell you that the moment the ‘ber’ months hit, Christmas is in the air and there’s a definite shift in the vibe of the city. People are more positive, and take the fabled Filipino hospitality to new heights. That’s why Christmas here is so unique,” says Dustin Ancheta, founder of CQPH, which creates programmes that help travellers discover the Filipino soul.

In the Philippines, Christmas officially starts on December 16, with a nine-day series of Masses called Simbang Gabi, with some starting as early as 3am. Christmas Eve or Noche Buena marks the ninth day, and most Filipinos celebrate with a thanksgiving meal at midnight. All the festivities finally draw to a close on the Epiphany on January 6 — once Mass is celebrated, the kids know the holidays are over and it is, sadly, time to go back to school.

Like the rest of the world, food is a big part of the festivities. From rich desserts to the Filipino version of roast turkey, here are eight Christmas foods that you’ll only find in the Philippines.

1. Lechon

Plate of lechon and rice
Lechon is best enjoyed by dipping the slices in a classic Pinoy sauce such as the pinakurat spiced vinegar.

The Filipino version of Christmas turkey, lechon is essentially a whole pig roasted over charcoal. Juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside, one bite is enough for you to get why Anthony Bourdain hailed it as the “best pork dish ever”.

2. Bibingka

Bibingka is commonly sold by street vendors during the dawn Masses of the Christmas season.

Bibingka is a sweet glutinous rice cake made of coconut cream, sugar and ground rice baked in a clay pot lined with leaves. It’s topped with shredded coconut, butter and brown sugar before serving.

3. Pinoy-style spaghetti

Pinoy-style spaghetti
This dish features banana ketchup, a popular condiment in the Philippines made from banana, sugar, vinegar and spices.

The Filipino take on spaghetti bolognese features hotdog slices along with ground beef, and has a sweeter taste thanks to its unique sauce made of tomato puree, brown sugar and banana ketchup.

READ MORE: Where to find Manila's best local food

4. Pancit Malabon

Pancit Malabon
The noodles are said to represent “long life”. (Photo credit: https://bit.ly/38qCk00)

This hearty stir-fried noodle dish is loaded with eggs and annatto seeds (which gives this Christmas staple its characteristic yellow-orange hue) and an array of seafood toppings like shrimp, squid, mussels and oysters.

5. Leche flan

Leche flan
What sets it apart from the classic flan recipe is the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk. Evaporated milk is sometimes added for a richer taste.

This custard dessert is the perfect way to end your Christmas feast on a sweet note. Made of just sugar, fresh milk, condensed milk and egg yolk, Leche flan is usually served at fiestas and other special occasions.

6. Puto bumbong

Puto Bumbong
The glutinous rice used to make puto bumbong is called pirurutong, which is deep purple to almost black in colour.

This purple-hued dessert is a mix of glutinous rice, coconut milk and sugar poured into a bamboo tube and then steamed, and it’s served hot with grated coconut, butter and sugar.

READ MORE: Where to go for sweet treats in Manila

7. Lumpiang ubod

Lumpiang Ubod
The fillings include julienned heart of palm, which is “ubod” in Tagalog. (Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lainetrees/5550959718)

One of the healthier options when it comes to Christmas food, lumpiang ubod is a fresh spring roll dish packed with a medley of vegetables, coconut, shrimp and pork mixed with a vinegar-based sauce.

8. Tsokolate

The original version of this drink, a mix of just tablea and hot water, has a strong, bittersweet taste that is usually tempered with milk and sugar. (Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/glossmania/7873722028/)

The Filipino answer to hot chocolate, tsokolate’s main ingredient is tablea, which is a paste made from roasted cocoa beans and sugar.