Uncooked pirurutong rice (above) and the cooked pirurutong suman or rice cake
Pirurutong rice is a purple-brown aromatic rice which is often used in many rice cakes due to its soft and glutinous consistency when cooked.
Pirurutong can also be ground into a flour, which is then used in making the Christmas rice cakes called “puto bungbong” (although many puto bungbong makers nowadays use regular rice flour with artificial purple coloring).
Suman na pirurutong (pirurutong rice cake) is cooked ‘biko’ style which is basically steaming the pirurutong rice mixed with undiluted coconut cream and later topped with coco jam.
Depending on the region or the cook, there are several versions of the pirurutong suman with some cooks using crushed ginger to flavor the steamed rice or squeezing a few drops of kalamansi (Philippine lemon) to add a zesty taste to the rice cake.
A rice dessert and delicacy, puto bungbong is a variety of glutinous rice cakes traditionally eaten during the Christmas season.
Dyed in purple and cooked or steamed with coconut milk, puto bungbong is prepared in big aluminium pans, where it is steamed inside a bamboo or funnel-like contraption. The rice cake is served in fresh banana leaves and topped with grated coconut. It is best eaten when still warm or freshly cooked.
During the week of late-night Church mass (Simbang Gabi) preceding Christmas Day, puto bungbong vendors flocked to church yards or nearby public squares to sell this native snack to devout churchgoers and passersby. This rice cake is closely associated with cozy Christmas nights when the evening air turns chilly and people have the appetite to go for a midnight snack right after going to church.
Puto bungbong is also accompanied with a hot drink of steaming, thick chocolate (called tsokolate puro or pure chocolate), a remnant of Spanish eating traditions.
Mabuhay ang puto bungbong!
Combi rice cakes: puto (left) and kutsinta
Puto at kutsinta (steamed rice cakes) are snack favorites in the Philippines, and are actually two different kinds of rice cakes. Puto is a generic rice cake using finely milled rice flour, mixed with coconut milk and gently steamed on Chinese-styled bamboo bowls.
Puto is artificially colored (optional) except for the light green ones which are flavored with pandan extract. The cakes are also topped with a small chunk or slice of cheese for accent.
Kutsinta (or cuchinta) is cooked with small amounts of lye-colored water and is lightly sweet and neutral in taste. These two rice cakes are often served or sold together as they complement and make a hearty snack. Topped with grated coconut and served on fresh banana leaves, nothing beats puto’t kutsinta for a real taste of native or traditional Pinoy snacks.
Mabuhay ang puto’t kutsinta!
If there is a ”mother-of-all-Philippine-rice-cakes’,’ bibingka would win the title hands down.
Bibingka is not only a rice cake that crosses regional lines in the Philippines it also has an iconic status in traditional Philippine cooking. Traditional Philippine baking employs very spartan kitchen implements, and the baking process is a tedious one involving hours of preparing the glutinous rice and coconut milk mixture and, equally challenging, preparing the earthenware pots that served as ‘oven.’
With the pasty mixture poured into pots that are lined with banana leaves, the earthenware pots are placed inside improvised stone ovens, and charcoal fire is placed on top and below to slowly (and carefully) heat the stone oven. If this description is hard to follow, the baking itself is an equally tough challenge. Of course with modern ovens, this tedious process became impractical, but discriminating bibingka diehards swear that cakes baked the traditional way are more tastier.
Proof of bibingka’s iconic status is that the word bibingka itself has entered Filipino venacular as in “Parang na-bibingka sa init,” which means to experience hellish heat or fire. Imagine experiencing fire on top and fire below! Or the comment “Ang girlfriend niya ay mukhang bibingka.‘” Translation: ‘His girlfriend looks like a bibingka” Not necessarily a compliment as it means that the girl has a plumpy figure or is moon-face (bibingka is round and soft).
The cake is best eaten fresh when it is still warm, soft with a subtle nutty taste. Variants of the bibingka are bibingka cassava (local yum), with optional toppings of grated coconut. As with other rice cakes, a perfect accompaniment for bibingka is hot chocolate. With this delicious duo, one could never invent a more delightful treat!
Mabuhay ang bibingka!