Rice is the Philippines’ favorite carb. It’s a staple in every Filipino’s meal. Between 2009 and 2010, a Filipino consumed an average of 119 kilograms of rice.
While plain old white rice gets Filipinos going all day, sticky rice satisfies our deepest, darkest, sweetest cravings. Sticky rice, also called glutinous rice, is used in making the many sweet treats of the Philippines. Here are five sticky rice delicacies that are a must-try.
Suman is the country’s quintessential native delicacy. Glutinous rice is cooked in coconut milk, wrapped in palm, banana or bamboo leaves then steamed to make this rice cake. Wrapping suman is an art in itself since different shapes result in different wrappings. Tubular suman is wrapped in vertical coils while rectangular suman allows for simple folds. Others have geometric patterns like a heart and involve more complex folds.
A sugar dip gives suman that sweet kick. You can even eat it with sliced ripe mangoes. Suman is best paired with coffee or the native tsokolate eh (thick, bittersweet hot chocolate made from cacao tablets) to counter the sweetness.
Suman is available in street stalls and local eateries. Fely J’s Kitchen serves suman with sliced ripe mangoes hidden under a bed of macapuno ice cream (ice cream made of soft, jelly-like coconut flesh).
Espasol is a rice cake originating from the province of Laguna. Glutinous rice flour is toasted until pale brown and mixed with coconut milk and sugar. The mixture is cooked over low flame with constant stirring to get that tensile consistency. You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture springs back with a slight pull. The mixture is then divided and formed into cylindrical logs and rolled in toasted rice flour.
You can easily buy espasol in bus stops and pasalubong (souvenir) shops across Laguna, particularly in the towns of Alaminos, Los Baños, Nagcarlan and Pagsanjan.
Sapin is a Filipino word which means “layer” and is an apt name for this three-layer rice cake made of steamed glutinous rice mixed with coconut milk. Each layer has its own flavor and color: purple yam for the top purple layer, coconut milk for the middle white layer and jackfruit for the bottom yellow layer. Sapin-sapin is topped with latik, a desiccated coconut reduction cooked until brown, which gives it added crunch and texture.
Dolor’s Kakanin, located in the province of Malabon, will satisfy your sapin-sapin cravings.
Bilo-bilo (yes, it’s a Filipino thing to repeat words) are soft, chewy rice balls formed by combining glutinous rice flour and water. These are added to a mixture of sliced bananas and sweet potatoes, jackfruit strips and sago pearls cooked in a thick soup of coconut milk and sugar. Ginataang bilo-bilo is the ideal comfort food for a cold rainy day.
You can buy ginataang bilo-bilo in Filipino restaurants and local eateries across the country.
Puto bumbong is a favorite delicacy during Christmas time. It owes its distinctly purple color to a special variety of glutinous rice known as pirurutong. The name puto bumbong comes from a combination of puto, a type of steamed rice cake, and bumbong, which are cylindrical bamboo tubes. Puto bumbong is actually rice cake steamed in bumbong.
Glutinous rice is ground and soaked in saltwater for a few hours then dried overnight. It is then poured into bumbong before steaming. The rice cake is served on banana leaves and topped with grated coconut, muscovado sugar and butter. Puto bumbong is best eaten steaming hot, with the butter and sugar melting and melding perfectly with the purple rice cake.
Puto bumbong is readily available in food stalls around churches during the holiday season. One of the best, however, is found in Solibao Restaurant up north in Baguio City.
Rina Caballar is a writer born and raised in the Philippines. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading a good book and savoring chocolate in all its forms. You can follow her on Facebook or on Instagram.
Photos by tofuprod CC BY-SA, museinthecity, Arthur Nielsen CC BY, and Arnold Gatilao CC BY