What makes the holidays magical for you? For me, it’s the fond food memories of Puto Bumbong- Steamed Purple StickyRice Logs with Coconut. The chilly, winter days of America remind me how much I miss Christmas in the Philippines. I miss it dearly like an old friend. I miss my family and friends. I miss the get-togethers, the caroling, the music, the parols (lanterns) and the ornaments. Most of all, I miss the food, the flavors, aromas and the way it is cooked. Filipino food defines us. Our cuisine sets us apart, and yet unites us on any occasion. So, no matter how far from home I am, I try to recreate traditional holiday dishes we had when we were growing up in our home province.
Christmas in the Philippines is centered around religious traditions and food. No other country or culture can rival the way the holidays are celebrated. No matter where in the world we are, Filipino homes will have these favorite dishes during the traditional Noche Buena, the Christmas Eve dinner where families gather together after attending church or the midnight mass. The usual spread consists of: bibingka (rice cakes with cheese and butter) the baked ham with slices of Queso de Bola (edam cheese) next to it, the ensaimada (brioche buns) and a plethora of classic Filipino dishes.
Puto Bumbong (say ‘pooh-toh’ and ‘boom-bong’) are violet rice logs encased in banana leaves and steamed in bamboo cylinders. These are enjoyed together with the bibingka and a cup of piping hot salabat (ginger tea). These kakanin (rice cakes) are usually sold by sidewalk vendors outdoors on the church yard or sidewalk, in time for churchgoers attending the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi (dawn masses) to be enticed as they come out of the church service.
When I was a young working girl and not yet married, my cousin Janet and I bravely woke up at the crack of dawn to attend the early morning December masses at our local parish in Manila. Right after church, as the sun slowly rose and the cool breeze embraced us, we indulged ourselves and bought bibingka and puto bumbong from the street vendors. Bibingkas were individually cooked on make-shift little clay ovens which used hot coals to fire up the bottom and top of the rice cake. The aroma of butter on rice cakes blended beautifully with the scent of the banana leaves wrapped around the puto bumbong. These violet sticky logs were cooked in specially-crafted aluminum steamers with bamboo tubes.
Puto means rice cake. And bumbong refers to the bamboo. The original Philippine recipe calls for using pirurutong or black rice which turns violet when cooked. But for the regular suburban family like ours here in America, black rice is not easy to find in our neighborhood grocery. When I did find black rice in Asian markets, the bag was enormous and expensive. I couldn’t imagine how we could consume several pounds of commercial quantity rice at home.
So, I resorted to doing what I always do. I developed my own recipe for Puto Bumbong, using ingredients I found in nearby groceries, without losing the essence of this Filipino delicacy.
It was delightfully easy to mix together the rice flour, ube powder and coconut milk and cream. The dry ingredients absorbed the creamy coconut and soon the light purple mix was solid and smooth enough to be shaped into logs. I wrapped them like long cigars in banana leaves and then steamed the logs.
The earthy scent of steamed banana leaves encasing the dark purple sticky rice logs tugged at my soul. It brought me back to Christmas in the Philippines. After they were steamed in the bamboo tubes, the violet logs were glistening and splendid. The thick texture was filling, in spite of its simple, delicate flavors. The dark purple rice logs were the ideal backdrop to the sweetness of the grated coconut meat slivers which clung to the melted butter and brown sugar. It was sublime.
And with that, I put up our parol by the front window of our home here in America and knew in my heart this was going to be a wondrous holiday season.
Merry Christmas, folks. Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagoong Taon!
Filipino Puto Bumbong - Steamed Purple Sticky Rice Logs with Coconut
- Puto Bumbong Steamer with Bamboo (from Asian markets or in the Philippines)
- Standard steamer
- 12 to 14 whole pieces banana leaves cut into 8 x 8 inches(freshly picked or frozen)
- 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
- 2 cups rice flour
- 1 cup ube powder
- 1 cup brown sugar divided, use 1/2 cup for puto bumbong, half for topping
- 1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk
- 1/4 cup coconut cream
- 1/2 cup grated coconut meat (fresh or frozen) for topping (or use organic dessicated coconut flakes)
- for serving: piping-hot tea
- Prepare the banana leaves: Wash with soap and water. Gently pat dry with paper towels. Cut them up in pieces of about 8 x 8 inches. Using a pair of scissors, cut off the tough yellow stringy parts on top or the spine of the leaf. Discard the tough yellow part. Set the leaves aside.
- To make the puto bumbong: In a large mixing bowl: Using a wooden spoon, combine the rice flour, ube (purple yam) powder, half a cup of brown sugar, coconut milk and cream. Blend ingredients well. The mixture will transform from a powdery to smooth, dough-like consistency and light lavender in color. Set aside.
- Place the banana leaves on the counter. Spread a teaspoon or two of softened butter in the center of each leaf. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of the violet rice flour mixture to the center of the leaf on top of the butter. Using a spoon or spatula, smoothen out the violet-colored rice flour mixture. Shape it like a long, thin log measuring about five to six inches.
- Wrap the violet logs individually like a thin burrito, tucking inside the edges. Start from your end, rolling the log away from you. Flatten them with the palm of your hand. Tie butcher’s string around the ends of each.
- Fill the bottom pan of a regular steamer with water about ¾ full. Cover and let the water come to a boil.
- If using the Puto Bumbong Steamer: Fill each of the holes below the bamboo tubes with water. Place the wrapped bumbong pieces inside the bamboo tubes, then put each inside the individual cylindrical steamers. Check the bamboo tubes, the smaller holes should be at the bottom. Place this contraption inside a large wok or saucepan with enough water for boiling. For this traditional steamer, steam the puto bumbong for 30 to 35 minutes.
- If using a regular steamer on the stove top: Place several pieces of the wrapped puto bumbong on the pan which has holes. Put this on top of the briskly boiling water. Then cover and steam for 25 minutes.
- To assemble: When puto bumbong is cooked, remove from the steamer and place on a dessert plate. Slather with some more butter. Sprinkle with grated coconut meat and brown sugar. Serve warm with hot tea.
- Additional Information: In the Tagalog language, it is spelled puto-bumbong. In Kapampangan it is spelled puto bungbong. In Batangueno, it is called puto sulot. (From the Philippine Food Cooking & Dining Dictionary by Edgie Polistico).
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Notes on Nutrition: The nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.
Did you like this recipe?I have more Filipino Instant Pot recipes in my newest cookbook Instant Filipino Recipes: My Mother’s Traditional Philippine Cooking in A Multicooker Pot by Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino. I also have more classic recipes inspired by my mother’s cooking in my popular cookbook: My Mother’s Philippine Recipes. If you’re learning how to cook Filipino food or a fan of Philippine cuisine, buy my cookbooks and books on Amazon.com sold worldwide in paperback and Kindle format.
Copyright Notice: Hello, Friends! Please DO NOT LIFT OR PLAGIARIZE my original recipe, stories, photos or videos. All the images and content on this blog are COPYRIGHT PROTECTED and owned by my media company Besa-Quirino LLC. This means BY LAW you are NOT allowed to copy, scrape, lift, frame, plagiarize or use my photos, essays, stories and recipe content on your websites, books, films, television shows, videos, without my permission. If you wish to republish this recipe or content on media outlets mentioned above, please ASK MY PERMISSION, or re-write it in your own words and link back to my blog AsianInAmericaMag.com to give proper attribution. It is the legal thing to do. Thank you. Email me at [email protected]