A CALL is all it takes to fill up the table on the eves of the two merriest days, Christmas and New Year. Everything these days can be delivered, too. How convenient, isn’t it? No queueing for order and pick-up, and braving the traffic of the Holiday season (yes, even in this time of pandemic).

Those whose families are in one household are lucky because they can celebrate the holiday feasts together. For others, like me, with family members living apart, we will have to settle for a video party while biting on a slice of queso de bola and sipping wine. If that’s what it will take to get us together, I’ll take it.

On the topic of Noche Buena, I grew up with mom preparing her classic menu: embutido, sweetened Chinese ham, queso de bola (it has to be Marca Piña), macaroni salad and baked macaroni and her famous chocolate cake. When we lost mom, none of us could replicate the flavors of her dishes.

Christmas for all of us will be different. But what will endure, we will still gather in a new way and celebrate. Rather than preparing one table, there will be several— one for each household.

What will be on your spread this Christmas 2020? If I must feast, I will feast on the tried and tested edibles. You might pick up a piece or two from my menu and discover a favorite.

The Bellychon from Kookels. The 3-kilogram pork belly embraces tons of spices that makes it flavorful and aromatic. The rind is crispy that your neighbor will hear you bite into it, and the meat is so tender. I love it that it’s a little salty to my taste (reminds me of lechon Cebu), which makes vinegar a perfect dipping sauce. (P1,800)

Rellenong Manok from Waterfront Insular Hotel. The hotel came up with a winner! I know of the bangus version but the chicken version is to die for. The Rellenong Manok is local flavors with a gourmet twist. The baked dish is prepared with deboned chicken stuffed with chicken and meat mixture, and whatever secret ingredient the chef sprinkled in it that makes it “pen drop” (ala Anton Ego) delicious. (P1,600).

Macaroni Salad from Leandro’s Catering is as close as my mom would make hers, but Leandro’s’ is creamier. I like their take on this dish. The cold dish makes a perfect pairing for the warm ones on the spread. Fair warning, it can be addicting.

Baked La Regina from Malagos Farmhouse can stand in place of the queso de bola. The cheese is “bloomy rind goat cheese made in the style of Camembert, creamy, funky, gooey. Slightly goaty, unctuous,” said the cheesemaker. Buy the kit and bake for 25 minutes in the oven and enjoy!

Garlic Rosemary Focaccia from Nikki Kneads is the perfect carbo pairing for the meats and cheese. The bread is quite tasty and I personally love the pre-cooked and flavored garlic on it. (P600).

For the sweet stuff, I have three. Decadent, why not? We all deserve it. And all three desserts I love are decadently laden with premium ingredients and baked with love, like how all desserts should be.

There should always be a Fruit Cake on the table and my preference is from Rich Treats. The cake isn’t that sweet but if you’re looking for the saccharine treat then the glazed fruits will do the trick. (P800)

Buko Pie from Claudine Sasin. She picks up where her Lola Peralta and cousin Tanya left off to continue the baking legacy—and she’s acing it. To make it is a laborious task from creating the three key parts - crust, custard and topping- and finally baking it as one. This Pinoy delicacy is elevated to gourmet levels. (P150 each).

Sans Rival from Leandro’s Catering is a classic not many know about. It’s a divine dessert made with layers of premium butter and thin merengue. It’s cut into bite-sized bricks and best eaten straight from the freezer to enjoy the crispy treat. (P750)

The morning after

You may have eaten at midnight but wake up hungry. For me, I have this urge to go back to the basics, like a bowl of hot champorado (made with tsokolate from Malagos Farmhouse) and paired with a salty savory. I found one— ready-to-eat, unsalted squid flakes from Abeh of Mati. This one is special. Imagine biting on potato chips only, it's made of squid. That’s how thin and crispy it is. The squid flavor is not overpowering that it can be enjoyed as a snack. And they also have a Dried Danggit variety.

Native Guava Jam from Chloe Gempesaw is a delightful bread spread rich in natural Vitamin C. It is mildly sweetened to make the flavors of the native guava shine. It’s like a palette cleanser that will make the next item on the menu more flavorful. (P150/300gm jar)

Ensaymada by Adela's Treats is buttery soft and best served warm. It makes a perfect pair for hot sikwate or coffee. This is a nice meal to start the day. (P50)

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