What’s Bibingka?

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Bibingka is a sweet and slightly salty rice cake from the Philippines, made with rice flour, water, and coconut water. It is cooked in banana leaf-lined muffin containers in a clay oven and can be topped with grated coconut, sugar sprinkles, salted duck egg slice, or grated cheese. It is often served during Christmas time and is accompanied by another type of rice cake called “puto bumbong”.

Bibingka is a food in the Philippines and is one of the many varieties of rice cakes in Filipino cuisine. Its flavor is generally slightly sweet, with a bit of a salty undertone for contrast. Depending on the versions, the texture of this rice cake can vary from being spongy to being sticky. It is also classified as “kakanin”, a collective term for foods made from rice or rice flour.

The origin and history of bibingka are uncertain, but the name itself bears a striking resemblance to an Indian desert called “bebinca”. This type of pudding is different from Filipino rice cake, as the former contains no rice ingredients and is cooked several times after each layer of pudding is added one at a time. The cooking method, however, is similar because both dishes require heat above and below them while cooking. The name bibingka also has some Chinese influence, as “bi” is the Chinese word for rice.

The main ingredients of bibingka are rice flour mixed with water to form a creamy batter. Coconut water can replace ordinary water to add a distinct flavor. To make the cake softer and richer, milk and eggs can be added, along with a little brown sugar to make the cake sweet. Modern versions of rice cake sometimes contain small amounts of butter to give more texture to both texture and flavor.

The batter is then poured into individual muffin containers lined with a banana leaf, making it easy to remove the bibingka during baking, and the metal containers don’t need much cleaning. The banana leaf also gives off an aroma which the rice cake absorbs. The traditional way of cooking this rice cake can be boring because the clay oven has to be prepared a certain way. Ovens must be preheated with coals underneath before muffin pans are placed on the surface. The containers are then covered with a sheet of banana leaf before a basket of heated coals is placed on top of it.

Various toppings can also be added to the bibingka, such as grated coconut, sugar sprinkles, salted duck egg slice, and even grated cheese. The common technique for adding these toppings is to remove the bibingkas from the oven after they have risen slightly, place the toppings, and then place them back in the oven. The rice cake is then served still hot, sometimes with a wedge of butter on the side for spreading.

Bibingka is especially common around Christmas time during “Simbang Gabi” or Midnight Mass, which occurs a couple of weeks before Christmas Day. Churches would usually be lined with numerous food vendors with several clay ovens, ready to serve rice cakes to worshipers after mass. Bibingka is often accompanied by the purple “puto bumbong”, another type of “kakanin”.

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