Puto Bumbong: Rice Cakes in Bamboo Tubes for Noche Buena at Purple Yam

December 14, 2011

Filipinos Celebrate Christmas with Native Kakanin (rice delicacies)

Puto bumbong maker

The tradition of celebrating Christmas in the Philippines embraces all the major culinary influences that have come to our shores especially those festive dishes from Spain (ham, rellenos, ensaimadas, turrones, etc.) and China (pancit, Chinese ham, tikoy).  This is the time we bring out the most treasured dishes (both native and foreign) that we have encountered and savored.

But the most significant aspect of Christmas is that it comes right after the November rice harvest and all manner of rice desserts are produced to celebrate the holidays and to offer thanks for a much needed good harvest.

There are basically three types of kakanin or rice desserts and their names refer to their method of cooking.  Bibingka means baked (heat coming from above and below the baking pan); suman means boiled and puto is steamed.  Most kakanin use rice, sugar, some form of liquid either water or coconut milk and toppings are usually grated lukadon (coconut that is not quite mature) and muscovado, refined white sugarcane, palm or coconut sugar.  One common substitute for rice is cassava which is one of my most favorite ingredients in any type of kakanin.  The best one is the cassava puto from Irosin, Sorsogon where Chef Romy Dorotan comes from.

cassava puto maker in Irosin, Sorsogon, shows the same principle of steaming puto as the puto bumbong.

The dried grated cassava is sprinkled into a funnel whose stem is inside the steamer. The funnel is covered by a coconut shell or bao.

The cassava puto from Irosin. It is filled with bukayo or sweetened lukadon which is a coconut that is no longer young (buko) but not yet quite mature. This is one of the most delicious puto I have ever tasted.

During Christmas, the most favored kakanin are puto bumbong and bibingka because these are the most common snacks served outside churches where steaming puto bumbong makers and smoldering hot coals bring forth these two beloved delicacies that taste even better after a long Mass.

The principle of the puto bumbong is soaking, grinding and drying galapong (rice batter) and using steam that pushes through a narrow passage to cook the dessicated batter.  As soon as the steam passes through the bamboo tube, that means the puto is done and must be shaken loose from the bamboo tube which is greased with butter or coconut oil.  This is topped with melted butter, muscovado sugar and grated coconut and must be eaten as soon as it is served.

Romy checking the bamboo tubes if the puto is done

toppings for the puto: butter, coconut and muscovado sugar

Puto bumbong is made with a blend of black rice, sweet or glutinous rice and regular plain rice.

The puto is done once the steam passes through the tube. Some puto makers put a whistle on the tube like a kettle.

The original recipe of the puto bumbong used pirurutong or black rice, but the pirurutong is almost extinct and most black glutinous rice is expensive.  So most puto bumbong makers use a combination of malagkit or sweet rice and ube or purple yam.  However, most commercial puto makers nowadays do not even use purple yam as the supplies have been depleted by recent floods and typhoons and unfortunately use artificial food coloring and flavorings.

At Purple Yam, we have opted to revive the true flavor of the puto bumbong by using the black diket heirloom rice from the terraces of the Philippines.  I tried to learn the secrets of this puto whenever I travel around the Philippines.  Ironically, we found the perfect recipe and method on Youtube.  So we have to thank Cookingmama76 for posting a great video on How to Make Puto Bumbong

The puto is shaken loose from the bamboo tube

Nothing beats the beautiful purple hue of the puto made with the heirloom black diket rice from Ifugao.

The puto masterpiece served with muscovado sugar and grated coconut.

Come join us for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) or Christmas Day at Purple Yam and taste the elusive puto bumbong.  It is quite labor intensive which is why not too many people offer it.  We hope that this will make many of you feel right at home during the holidays!

Merry Christmas or Maligayang Pasko sa inyong lahat!

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