Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas the Filipino Way

Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the Philippines. In fact, the country has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season, with Christmas carols heard as early as September and the season lasting until Epiphany, the feast of the Black Nazarene on the second Sunday of January, or at the Feast of the Santo Niño held every third Sunday of January.

There are several Filipino customs and traditions widely observed today that make the Christmas Season in the Philippines a very exciting and much fun occasion:


Caroling in the Philippines consists of small groups of children going from house to house chanting traditional Christmas songs using makeshift instruments like tambourines made of "tansans" or aluminum bottle caps strung on a piece of wire, while carolers await expectantly for the homeowners to reward them usually with coins.

Makeshift tambourine made of "Tansans"

Christmas Party

In urban areas, offices organize Christmas parties which are usually held before Christmas Day, or before schools go on holiday. Common activities include Monito/Monita, or Kris Kringle, singing, dancing, and parlor games. Food is usually potluck - a pool of contributions of food and drinks.

The Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi

Christmas Day in the Philippines is ushered in by a nine-day dawn and night novena masses called the Misa de Gallo, or "Rooster's Mass" in Spanish, or the Simbang Gabi in Filipino, or "Night Mass" that starts on December 16 and culminates on Christmas Eve, December 24. It is considered the most important Filipino Christmas tradition where Catholic families attend a nine-day novena mass in remembrance of the Nativity of Jesus. The Misa de Gallo traditionally starts as early as three o'clock in the morning but in some parishes nowadays, it is celebrated in the evening. 

A Traditional Filipino Holiday Fare immediately after the Misa de Gallo

After Mass, families partake of traditional Filipino holiday delicacies sold by vendors outside the church. Common to these fares are bibingka - a native rice cake made of flour and egg cooked with coal burners above and under; putò bumbóng - a purple, sticky rice delicacy steamed in bamboo tubes with brown sugar and shredded dried coconut meat as condiments; salabát, a hot ginger tea; and tsokoláte - a hot cocoa drink. 

Bibingka - Native Rice Cake

Puto Bumbong

Salabat -  Ginger Tea

Tsokolate - Hot Cocoa Drink

Bisperas ng Pasko, or Christmas Eve is celebrated with the Midnight Mass on December 24, and immediately after, the much-awaited Noche Buena – a traditional Filipino Christmas Eve feast where families eat together at exactly 12 o' clock midnight in a spread of queso de bola (Edam Cheese), hamón (Chinese ham), tsokoláte, and fruit salad. Christmas presents and gifts are also exchanged and opened at this time.

Noche Buena

Queso de Bola - Edam Cheese

Hamon - Chinese Ham

Fruit Salad

The Panunuluyan

Patterned after the Spanish Las Posadas, the "Panunulúyan", "Pananawágan", or "Pananapátan", is the traditional re-enactment of the journey of Saint Joseph and the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary in search of lodging. It is very popular in the provinces and is performed in schools usually at nightfall where actors portray Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary going to pre-designated houses, chanting traditional songs that are meant to rouse the owner of the house, to request for lodging. The owner of the house, who is also an actor, in turn cruelly turns away the Holy Family, also chanted in traditional songs, reasoning that the house is already filled with other guests. Finally, Joseph and Mary make their way to the parish church where a replica of the stable awaits the Holy Family. The birth of Jesus is celebrated at 12 midnight in the Misa de Gallo.


Misa de Aguinaldo is a mass celebrated on Christmas Day, December 25 and attended by the whole family. It is usually celebrated between 10 PM and 12 midnight. In the morning, Filipino children visit family elders in order to pay their respects called the "Pagmamáno", an age-old custom in the Philippines of giving respect by bringing the elder's hand to one's forehead while saying "Máno Pô". The elder in turn blesses the person who has paid respect. 


"Aguinaldo", is a gift of family elders to young children in the form of crisp, and fresh-from-the-bank money following the Pagmamano. A Christmas Lunch usually follows after the "Aguinaldo" where the whole family gathers in a grand and glorious feast of traditional Filipino delicacies. When the family is settled after the sumptuous lunch, exchange of gifts usually follows. Godparents are expected to give gifts or Aguinaldo to their godchildren.

Niños Inocentes

Niños Inocentes is the commemoration of those innocent children massacred by King Herod, who was seeking the death of the newborn Messiah. Known as the Holy Innocents' Day, it is commemorated on December 28. Filipinos celebrate Niños Inocentes by doing sinister pranks to one another where one borrows money without the intention of paying back. Victims are usually helpless in getting remuneration from the offender, and are instead forewarned not to lend money on this day.

New Year

"Bisperas ng Bagong Taon" or the New Year's Eve celebration on December 31 is a grand feast celebrated by Filipinos where families gather for the much-anticipated "Media Noche" or midnight meal - a feast that symbolizes their hopes for a prosperous New Year. Traditionally, Filipinos meet the coming New Year with loud noises and sounds of merrymaking usually with firecrackers, banging on pots and pans, and blowing of horns which are all believed to cast out malevolent spirits. The jumping of children at the stroke of midnight in the hope that they will grow taller, the displaying of circular fruits and the wearing of clothes with dots and other circular designs to symbolize money and prosperity all through out the new year, the eating of twelve fruits at 12 midnight for good luck in the twelve months of the year, and opening of windows and doors during the first day of the New Year to let the good luck in are just but a few of the many customs and traditions that make the Filipino Christmas celebration fun and exciting!


The traditional "Kanyon" is a popular type of home-made Filipino Bamboo firecracker or cannon used in making loud noises during the New Year celebration. It is made up of a large bamboo, usually around 4 to 6 inches in diameter and 4 to 5 feet long, with kerosene used as fuel. A small amount of kerosene is poured into a small hole at the breach of the cannon and a lighting stick is used to ignite the fumes and fire the cannon. Then fresh air is blown into the small hole and the cannon is fired again. However, the explosion may cause severe injury if firing the Kanyon is not handled carefully.

12 Circular Fruits of Christmas in the Philippines

The Epiphany or the Three Kings Day

Christmas officially ends on Epiphany, commonly known as Three Kings', or "Tres Reyes" in Spanish, or "Tatlóng Harì" in Pilipino. Three Kings was traditionally commemorated on January 6 but is now officially celebrated on the first Sunday after New Year. Children on this day would usually leave their shoes outside the house in the hope that the Three Kings would come by and leave behind gifts of candies or money inside their shoes. However, in the Philippines, the season ends on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, on the second Sunday of January with the processions of the Black Nazarene in Manila and Cagayan de Oro in honour of the Image's 1787 transfer to its present residence in Quiapo Church in Manila. The holiday is often extended to the third Sunday of January to pay homage and give honour to the miraculous Señor Santo Niño de Cebu or Christ Child, the first Christian image brought to the Philippines in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan as a baptismal present to Datu Humabon and his wife when they and their subjects converted to Christianity.

The procession of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo Church in Manila

The procession of the Señor Santo Niño de Cebu

Of course, the Filipino Christmas would not be complete without the traditional Philippine Christmas symbols and decorations. The Filipino has several different ways of adorning the holiday season where homes, buildings, malls, and every city streets are illuminated with Christmas lights and decors.

The Parol or Christmas Lantern

The word "Parol"or Christmas Lantern is a Spanish word "farol", meaning "lantern". It is one of the most iconic and beloved symbols of the holiday that adorns every Filipino home. Patterns of the paról evolved from the five-pointed paper star lantern originally crafted by an artisan named Francisco Estanislao in 1928. The earliest  paróls were made from simple bamboo sticks, Japanese rice paper known as "papel de Hapon" or crepe paper, and a candle or kalburo (carbide) for illumination.  This kind of paról was used by barrio folks to light their paths during the Misa de Gallo as electricity was yet unavailable at the time in many rural areas. Present day paról takes various shapes, forms, and sizes, but generally the most basic 5-pointed star pattern remains dominant while others are made of cellophane, plastic, rope, capiz shell, and a wide variety of materials. The design of the paról evokes the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Kings to the manger. It also symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and the Filipinos' hope and goodwill during the Christmas season. Paról Making is a folk craft, and most Filipino kids in one way or another have tried their hands in paról making perhaps as a school project. 

Belen or the Nativity Scene

Another traditional Filipino Christmas symbol is the Belen - a "creche" which means "crib" in French  depicting the Nativity scene of the infant Jesus Christ in the manger, with the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, surrounded by the shepherds and their flock, the three Magi, and the angels along with some stable animals. A background of a barn or a manger is commonly used by most people today, but a background of more natural materials such as grass or rocks is also used.

Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree may have originated in western Germany in the 16th century, but it has somehow found its way into the homes and lives of Filipinos and has been adapted and became part of the tradition in the Philippines.

While blogging is much fun despite being laborious at times, I am taking a much needed and long overdue vacation to enjoy the Christmas Season with my family, and at the same time dedicating this special post, "Christmas the Filipino Way," for the entire month of December and will resume blogging come January 2012.

May I take the occasion to thank and wish those who have read, visited, left comments, and followed this blog a Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Davao Cacao - Tablea

This may come as a surprise to many but Davao is the country's top producer and exporter of cacao, where chocolate is made from. In Davao, the major cacao-producing provinces are Davao del Sur, Davao City, Davao Oriental, Bukidnon, and Davao del Norte.

Cacao grows best on higher ground, to an elevation of at least 1,000 meters above sea level usually in between other trees where it is shaded for optimal growth. It thrives best in areas like Davao where there is an evenly distributed rainfall throughout the year. Upon reaching maturity, the cacao pods sprout from its trunk and branches and embedded inside the pods are layers of 20 60 cacao beans.

Cacao Trees

Man's fascination with chocolates has its roots from the Aztecs of South America who have already enjoyed this so called "Drink of the Gods" long before Christopher Columbus discovered it from the Aztecs in the 15th century and brought it back to the new world to show King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. While cocoa became a court favorite, it was the Spanish friars who actually introduced the wonders of the chocolate beans to the rest of Europe. It was served as beverage, but the Europeans added sugar and milk to neutralize the cocoa's natural bitterness and removed the chili pepper, replacing it with vanilla, another indigenous Mexican spice. 

Cocoa Pod

The scientific name of the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao which means "Food of the gods" from the Aztec word "cacahuatl", and was later adapted into the Spanish language. The word cacao entered scientific nomenclature in 1753 after the Swedish naturalist Carl Nilsson Linnaeus published his taxonomic binomial system and coined the genus and species Theobroma cacao.

Carl Nilsson Linnaeus 1775
Oil painting in the portrait collection at Gripsholm Castle

For hundreds of years, the process of extracting cocoa butter to create hard and durable chocolate through mechanical mills in the 18th century remained unchanged. However, it was not until the Industrial Revolution era that these mills were utilized for greater use. This was when people around the world began consuming chocolates.

Pierre Paul Caffarel

Towards the end of the 18th century, the first form of solid chocolate was invented in Turin, Italy by Doret. This chocolate was sold in large quantities from 1826 by Pierre Paul Caffarel. In 1819, Francois-Louis Cailler opened the first Swiss chocolate factory. In 1828, Dutchman Coenraad Johannes van Houten patented a method for extracting the fat from cocoa beans and making powdered cocoa and cocoa butter. It was also at this time that Van Houten developed the so called "Dutch Process" of treating chocolate with alkali to remove its bitter taste which helps form the modern chocolate bar we see today. 

Francois-Louis Cailler

Coenraad Johaness van Houten

Englishman Joseph Fry is believed to have made the first chocolate for eating in 1847, followed in 1849 by the Cadbury brothers. Daniel Peter, a Swiss candle maker, joined his father-in-law's chocolate business. In 1867, he began experimenting with milk as an ingredient. He brought his new product, milk chocolate, to market in 1875. He was assisted in removing the water content from the milk to prevent mildewing by a neighbour, a baby food manufacturer named Henri Nestlé. Rodolphe Lindt invented the process called "conching", which involves heating and grinding the chocolate solids very finely to ensure that the liquid is evenly blended. This enabled Milton Hershey to make chocolate even more popular by mass producing affordable chocolate bars. 

Daniel Peter

Henri Nestlé

Rodolphe Lindt

Milton Hershey

With the growing popularity of the chocolate, the French established cacao plantations in the Caribbean, while Spain brought the cacao and developed it in their Philippine Colony. A Spanish mariner named Pedro Bravo de Lagunas started its first planting of cacao in San Jose, Batangas sometime in 1670. The country was the first in Asia to plant cacao and process Tablea from cocoa beans. Commercial cacao farms were established by a group of Filipino investors and many more farms were added in Mindanao. Cacao plantations continued to flourish over the years, though comparatively smaller now than it was during the Spanish times. 

Right up to the 1970’s, the tedious processing of grinding the dark brown cacao beans and shaping it into discs of tableas were all done manually. With problems hampering agriculture particularly the cacao plantations during the Agrarian era in the 1990’s, the local cacao industry did not flourish and tablea making was one of the first casualties of industrialization.

World famous Mars Chocolates

Now , Mars, Inc. of the United States, one of the biggest consolidated confectionery company in the world today, and makers of the world favorites such as M&M's, Snickers, and the Mars bar including 3 Musketeers, Dove, Milky Way, Skittles, Twix, and Starburst candy, Combos and Kudos snacks, Uncle Ben's rice, and pet food under the names Pedigree, Sheba, and Whiskas, literally came to the rescue and directly tapped Davao farmers to supply cacao. It also owns the world's largest chewing gum maker, the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company.

Cocoa Green House at Mars Cocoa Development Center
of the Puentespina family of Davao

Since there is no single cacao plantation that has the capacity to supply the magnitude of cacao required by Mars, Inc., Ms. Charita Puentespina spearheaded the consolidation of cacao harvests  within Davao City. Thus, the Puentespina family established the Mars Cocoa Development Center to serve as a hub for cacao farmers in Davao City and in nearby provinces of Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, and Sto. Tomas in Davao del Norte, making them the biggest consolidator of all wet beans produced by farmers within a 25-kilometer radius from the Puentespina farm in Malagos, where a total of 17 hectares is planted with cacao. The Farm has established fermentation and drying facilities to produce good quality beans.

Aimed at helping cacao farmers in Davao, the Mars Cacao Development Center in Malagos District, Davao City has hosted free training on the proper growing, rehabilitation, and post-harvest of cacao trees to no less than 4,000 farmers. The Center also established fermentation and drying facilities to further control quality of the wet beans where the flavor and aroma profile of the chocolate is developed, not only in variety.

Producing well-fermented and dried beans is not an easy task. To ensure bean quality, all beans are fermented, solar-dried, then sorted and graded based on internationally-accepted standards. Fermentation usually takes about 5-7 days for the full flavor of the beans to develop and drying takes about a week or 10 days. Fermentation enhances the aroma and flavor of the chocolate made from the beans. The beans are dried in a specially-constructed tent-like structures where the beans are turned twice a day for consistent drying. When the beans have achieved the right color and texture, it is then meticulously sorted, graded, and then packed in jute sacks. However, beans that have not yet reached its optimum dryness or minimum moisture content required by Mars, it is then returned to the drying area. While the tent-like structures depended mainly on the sun for heat, it is well ventilated to control humidity. Solar-drying in enclosed dryers ensures that the beans are not contaminated by undesirable odors and keeps the beans free from dirt and other debris.

Malagos Cacao

Davao tableas are excellent for making full-bodied, antioxidant-rich drinks not only for breakfast but for any time of the day as well. These are suitable too for baking that requires only the best in chocolate ingredients. Tableas are hygienically molded from pure chocolate liquor (thick, liquid chocolate paste) ground from roasted fermented beans, and vacuum-sealed in food-grade plastic envelopes. 

In Davao, tableas are not alkalized (Dutch) as this process will materially reduce the antioxidant property of any cacao product. Unlike powdered cocoa used to make chocolate drinks, tableas have nothing removed from them, and nothing added to them. Tableas, being pure cocoa, cannot be powdered as pure cocoa resists being transformed into powder. They are real, dark chocolate in their raw, untreated, and healthily beneficial form. Just dissolve the tableas thoroughly in boiling water, add sweetener and milk, stir and mix well, and it produces thick, frothy and antioxidant-rich cocoa drink. 

High grade or pure, unadulterated chocolate does not raise the bodys LDL or low density lipoprotein (the so-called bad cholesterol). With all its cocoa butter intact, it is in fact rich in palmitic, stearic and oleic acids which are all heart-friendly fats. For as long as cocoa is dark chocolate, you can be assured that it has the antioxidants that can reduce cancer risks and heart disease.

Hot Tablea Drink

Recipe for a hot Tablea drink

When buying tablea, check the fine print at the back of the package to ensure that the tablea is pure and does not contain sugar or milk.

1. Put one pure tablea in a cup of water (225 ml) in a tsokolatera over medium to high heat.

2. Once the mixture starts to boil, swirl the batirol with the palms of your hand and lower the flame as it starts to foam. The batirol will ensure smooth consistency of the mixture.

4. Continue mixing for 15-30 minutes until it reaches the desired consistency - medium thick or thick.

5. Once ready, pour the mixture into cups. Sugar and milk may be added as desired.

In Davao, hot Tablea drink is popularly served with puto-maya.

Puto Maya

Contact Information

Mars Cocoa Development Center advocates support for cacao growers in the Davao region, and is open to visitors who want to learn how cacao beans are processed.

Mars Cacao Development Center
Puentespina Farm, Barangay Malagos
Baguio District, Davao City
E-mails puentespinafarms@malagosfarmhouse.com or
Website www.malagosfarmhouse.com

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Davao Cheese

Unknown to many, Davao produces one of, if not, the best cheese in the country today. These high quality artisan cheese are handmade by Malagos Farmhouse of the Puentespina family of Davao City and are gaining popularity in our local market and being regarded abroad to be at par or even tastier than the imported European and Australian cheeses.

What started in 2006 by Mrs. Olive Puentespina as a simple goat cheese for the local market, eventually developed into 22 varieties of artisan cheese. The most noted ones are the fresh Goat Cheese (kesong puti), the Chèvre (French-style fresh cheese, pleasantly tart and lusciously creamy), the Feta (made of pure goat’s milk and aged in brine), the Blue Peppato (mildly aged cow’s milk cheese with whole green-pepper corn), and Blue Goat Cheese (a young goat cheese, mildly aged with blue molds), Queso Rustico (cheese made from cow's milk), Ricotta, Pecorino, Mutchli, and Fromage Frais, among others. 

Mrs. Olive Puentespina of Malagos Farmhouse

While cheese making proved to be a tedious process of trial and error to produce a perfect cheese, in September of 2006, Mrs. Puentespina's Feta was adjudged the Cheese of the Month by the Cheese Club of the Philippines - a landmark achievement considering that it was the first time ever that a locally produced cheese won such a distinction. Since then, many of these cheeses have found their way in to delicatessen stores, high-end groceries and supermarkets, bars, restaurants, and five-star hotels in Manila, and are very much in-demand now in the international market. 

The famous Malagos Farmhouse Feta Cheese

Philippine Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, regularly and exclusively serves the Malagos Farmhouse Feta cheese in the business class of its international flights. PAL orders every month four kinds of Malagos cheese, about 70 kilograms for each kind. Malagos Farmhouse also makes a special Blue Cheese that contains some mangoes for the national flag carrier.

Fresh Goat Cheese


Blue Goat Cheese

Blue Peppato Cheese

Blush Cheese

All Malagos cheeses are 100% made in Davao using 100% locally produced milk fresh from its dairy farm utilizing pure-bred goats and hybrid cows including their own herbs and spices. Malagos Farmhouse believes that the use of local ingredients and techniques adapted particularly to  Davao's good climate gives a distinct flavor to the cheeses Malagos produces.

Malagos Hybrid Goats

More Hybrid Goats

Malagos Cheese Products

Thanks to the Puentespina family of Malagos Farmhouse in Davao for giving us top quality artisan cheese that every Filipino should be proud of. MABUHAY!

Contact Information

Bolcan Street, Agdao, Davao City
Philippines 8000 
Tel (082) 226-4446
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