A Non-Traditional Noche Buena

Once again, we are approaching the joyful season of Christmas. Filipinos across the globe are already thinking about, and planning their “Noche Buena, the traditional family feast that immediately follows the Christmas Eve church service or Misa de Gallo. When we hear of Noche Buena, we usually think hamon (ham), queso de bola (Edam cheese), puto bumbong (purple rice cake topped with grated coconut and brown sugar), menudo (tomato-based pork and liver stew), and of course, pancit (noodles) and lumpia (egg rolls).

But many of us expatriates have our own unique ways of cooking up a sumptuous Noche Buena minus the traditional holiday food fare we’re used to in the Philippines.

Following is my idea of a non-traditional Noche Buena, one that to my mind still captures the spirit, hometown cravings and the colors of the season while consciously incorporating a balance of fruits, nuts, vegetables, chicken, pork, seafood and dairy. And my beverage of choice for this meal–perhaps the only menu item that follows tradition—is salabat (ginger tea).


Fried Corn Cakes



1 cup sweet corn kernels (fresh or previously frozen)
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg, beaten, OR 1/4 cup egg substitute
Salt and pepper to taste
Enough olive oil for frying

For the sauce:

3 tbsp vinegar
2 tsp brown sugar
A sprinkle of dried parsley flakes


In a mixing bowl, combine the corn, flour, egg (or egg substitute). Mix well. Add salt & pepper to taste.

In a frying pan, heat enough olive oil to cover the entire width of the pan. Pour a spoonful of the mixture into the pan and flatten with a spatula.  Repeat with another spoonful or two of the mixture. Cook in medium high heat until the corn cake turns golden brown, turning once to cook the other side. Place cooked corn cakes on a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess oil. Serve hot with sweet & sour sauce

To prepare the sauce:

Mix the vinegar and brown sugar until the sugar is full dissolved.
Add a sprinkle of dried parsley flakes.

(Makes about 4 servings)



Pomegranate Apple and Spinach Salad



2 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
2 cups baby spinach
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 cup walnut halves and pieces
2 tbsp blue crumbled blue cheese


1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Prepare the dressing by mixing the pomegranate juice, vinegar, mustard, honey and olive oil in bowl.  Whisk until evenly mixed. Add freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. In a salad bowl, toss all the ingredients. Pour the dressing over the salad mixture and toss.

(Makes 4 servings)



Pininyahang Manok



1 lb chicken breast, cut into bite-sized cubes
4 small pieces chicken thigh
1 can (20 oz) pineapple chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
Freshly-ground black pepper
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 medium-sized onions, peeled and cubed
1 cup, coconut milk
1 box (1 ½ oz.) of sun-dried raisins
2 cups green and red bell peppers, seeds removed, and cut into small cubes
1 medium fresh tomato, cut into 8 slices.


Marinate the chicken in the juice/syrup from the pineapple can for 15 minutes. Sprinkle a small amount of black pepper. Pour the chicken and juice into a medium-size pot or wok and cook in high heat (covered) until the liquid is gone and the chicken is lightly browned. Set aside in a bowl. In the same pot or wok, add the olive oil and sauté the garlic and onions until golden brown. Add back the chicken and pour the coconut milk. Add the pineapple chunks. Bring to a quick boil then simmer for 2 minutes, adding the bell peppers, tomatoes and raisins. Leave the pot uncovered. Turn off the heat and let stand for another 2 minutes before serving.

(Makes 4 servings)

Expatriates have their own unique ways of cooking up a sumptuous Noche Buena minus the traditional holiday food fare we’re used to in the Philippines.

Sautéed Calamari Over Yellow Rice



1 lb fully cleaned medium squid (tentacles separated from tubes and tubes sliced into tiny rings)
2 tbsp garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp green onions, chopped
2 tbsp tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp white onions, chopped
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 medium-size serrano pepper, seeded and chopped
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/3 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup packaged yellow rice 


Cook the rice according to the directions in the package. Set aside. In a large wok, heat olive oil in medium high  heat.  Add garlic and sauté until golden brown. Add white onions and cook until tender. Add tomatoes, serrano pepper and cilantro and cook for 2 minutes. Add calamari, soy sauce and vinegar and cook to the desired tenderness of the calamari, up to three minutes max (overcooking the calamari will make it “rubbery”). Add salt and pepper to taste. Place the desired amount of the cooked yellow rice on a serving plate and top with the warm calamari.  Sprinkle bread crumbs over the rice and calamari. Garnish with green onions.


Egg Custard Pie



One 9-inch ready pie crust
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups evaporated milk
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, mix together eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Whisk.

Add milk and continue to whisk. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake for about 30 minutes (you will know the pie is done by inserting a knife in the center of the pie and it comes out clean)

Remove from oven and let the pie cool down, or you can chill in the refrigerator before serving.

(Makes 6-8 servings)






2 large pieces of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups water
2 tbsp brown sugar or ¼ cup honey


In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. 


Rene Astudillo

Rene Astudillo

Rene Astudillo is the author of a newly-published cook book and memoir, My Bay Kitchen: Memories of My homeland, Travels and More. He has written for many publications in the Philippines, Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area, and was formerly the executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association.  

His passions include writing, traveling and cooking. His book is available through Amazon.com, Blurb.com/bookstore, www.MyBayKitchen.com and Arkipelago Bookstore in San Francisco.


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