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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Not So Changing Face of the Noche Buena Table

Christmas is indeed just around the corner and as is tradition every year for us Filipinos, the Noche Buena feast on Christmas Eve with the entire family is the central occasion we all look forward to. Here in the province, that's especially a big thing more so in our household that loves to eat!

Nowadays though the meal that's going to be set is dependent on two main things: the state of one's health with all that cholesterol-laden, salty and sugary sweet stuff served right in front of us and the state of one's finances and budget considering the pinch we're all feeling right now.

That being said, being the resilient people that we are, we're bound find a way around such issues and say in all cavalierhood "Minsan lang naman" or "May gamot naman eh" to our issues of diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart ailments. As for money concerns, the mothers who usually handle the budget will find a way to make do with what they have and prepare something special at least in keeping with the occasion---or with the neighbors.

Each family has its "staple" that manages to be made each year. Its become the trademarked specialty of a mother, aunt, lola or some other relative. Remember mother's lengua? How about an uncle's lechon de leche or how ate makes the ubiquitous fruit salad (ugh! Coconut meat shreds and fruit cocktail DROWNING in a sea of overly-sweet cream and evaporated milk! And there's like three barrels of it for all to enjoy 'til the new year! Susmaryosep!). This however is the stuff memories are made of.

In our family, it was the inescapable potato salad. It was always there. Some years it was good, some years it was with too much mayonnaise (ugh again!). That was my yearly designation. Not the usual fare found in the traditional menu I know, but I believe it was the influence of a maternal grandfather who served as Chief Steward for the US Navy. Potatoes boiled and diced, macaroni and your choice of various add-ons like quail eggs or ham bits all mixed together in a moderate amount of mayo and salt and pepper to taste. I add a dash of herb like basil or oregano sometimes. You're a heretic if you try to put pineapple, raisins, cheese or any kind of brightly-colored gelatin thing in there. This is POTATO salad which should rightfully be the highlight, not the schizophrenic mixed-with-fruit-version I see in others.

This year I'm planning to have a less conventional menu that's geared to be more health friendly. I plan to include Japanese sushi to the menu. Healthy, filling and delicious and not nakakasawa and heavy in the belly like meat dishes. I know there are ready made sets out in the larger supermarkets like Rustan's or take-out from Japanese restaurants to take the effort off. I've never made any so I simply refuse to experiment and would rather buy better prepared ones so as not to mess-up the planned feast.

In case though you're interested in making your own I put a link below for the recipe. Better if you have a bamboo mat to roll the rice and nori in. Works best with wasabi in your soy sauce. Scrambled eggs, cucumber, kani or crab sticks are standard but you can add lettuce, green onion, shrimp, tofu, salmon, bacon or luncheon meat for variety -

Next is Arroz ala Cubana. Too common you say? Not to me, it's like a more upscale version of the giniling dish we have everyday. Unhealthy? Well I substitute ground chicken for the beef or pork. They sell at Magnolia Chicken stations in supermarkets. For a bit of zing to the taste, I'll add julienned siling labuyo with the seeds removed of course. I'll skip the saging na saba that accompanies it though.

The third, I'd want fish. Escabeche would be nice. Labahita or even large tilapia in some marinade then fried or grilled is good.

For the veggie side, I wanna add a green salad with dressing or Chinese fresh lumpia to the menu. The coriander (wansuy) really does give it a distinct flavor from the Filipino version and the crushed nuts make it more yummy.

Those are my planned contributions to the Christmas dinner table. I'm sure there will be others offered by the rest of the family. I know mine will be a hit though!

Of course the potato salad will still be there.

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