It’s one of those things that both locals and balikbayans agree upon: a large, thick, flat-surfaced cake still piping-hot off the coals, dripping with butter and covered with a veritable snowdrift of grated coconut. It should be subtly sweet with a rather fragrant smokiness from the scorched banana leaves that lined its baking tin. And while they aren’t exactly obligatory, fat slivers of kesong puti (white carabao milk cheese) and salted duck egg add a savory twist that is most welcome, most comforting.
This glorious concoction is called bibingka, an unctuously good cake made with rice flour (galapong) and specifically baked over coals in a traditional clay oven (kalang putik) and with more coals heaped over it in a tin receptacle. Traditionally, the appearance of bibingka and the glutinous purple treat known as puto bumbong are edible heralds of the Christmas season as these are served in churchyard kiosks after dawn Mass. Today, however, it is served regardless of the season and is available from food court stalls and posh establishments.
Ferino’s bibingka, in particular, is one of those non-negotiable delights most Filipinos who have been away from home shores demand upon their return. For one thing, it’s certainly fatter and richer than most of the bibingka sold in this frugal age: it’s a golden yellow, has the right amount of fluffy stodge to its texture, it isn’t very sweet, and it comes to your table with a mound of coconut, lashings of salted butter, cheese, and slices of salted duck egg yolk (yes, the shockingly delectable yolk!).
The bibingka at Via Mare is a less baroque affair, but it’s just as good. Then there’s the one served over at Heavenly Chocolates which is thick, fluffy, incredibly buttery, and comes snowed under with grated cheese – it’s perfect with a hot cup of single-origin Davao or Sao Thome hot chocolate.
Whichever way you have your rice cake, each warm mouthful is certainly filled with a harmonious set of flavors you can build memories on. 😉