What's Another Round Fruit?


December 31st, or New Year’s Eve, is the time of year that calls for many different traditions. Whether it’s sporting parkas and triple layers and preparing for the bitter cold of Time Square, or donning party clothes and preparing to clink glasses and share kisses at midnight, each person has their own way of celebrating. For my family, aside from another excuse to fill our table with food, New Year’s Eve brings the frantic search for twelve round fruits. On December 31st, my mother, sisters, and I pile into the car, hopping from one grocery store to another. We realize each year, with a refreshed sense of bewilderment, just how difficult it is to find such a large – and strange – number of circular fruits. Hectic, but always fun, this practice is fairly new to my household. My dad claims that it is a Filipino tradition, but if so, I wonder why is it that we only recently started scouring Yonkers and beyond for oranges, cantaloupes, and grapefruits. If ringing in the New Year with twelve edible spheres is so deeply embedded into our culture, then why only during my high school years did this become part of our New Year’s repertoire?

Chinese Influence

Perhaps my dad’s hesitance lay in the fact that the collection of twelve round fruits is not an idea originally conceived by the Pilipinos but the Chinese. A way of petitioning prosperity for the incoming year, the Chinese adorn their tables with eight – a number that signifies good luck – round fruits. Pilipinos later adopted this concept, changing the number of fruits from eight to twelve, symbolizing each of the twelve months. This is not the only tradition the Philippines borrowed from the Chinese. Pilipinos also have become quite fond of Chinese customs, such as presenting children with money in red envelopes and, at the stroke of midnight, jumping with a coin in hand. So extensive is Chinese influence on Pilipino traditions that even when banned from using firecracker, an age-old Chinese method of ushering in the New Year, some Pilpinos mimic the practice by banging on pots and pans.

Authentic Pilipino Tradition

With this much foreign influence blurring the lines between borrowed routines and authentic Pilipino traditions, the question remains: Which New Year’s traditions can Pilipinos call their own? Yes, the Chinese loaned us numerous practices, but for every "stolen" tradition, we have just as many that are specific to the Philippines. Only Pilipinos swing their doors, windows, and cabinets wide open to draw in good fortunes. Only Pilipinos avoid chicken, hen, or any type of bird as a main course, for fear their luck will fly away with the meal. And only Pilipinos wear polka-dots as a prayer for prosperity, a custom so distinct that it appears on Mediait's list of The Most Unique and Unusual New Year's Traditions from Around the WorldIndeed, many of the rituals Pilipinos observe are foreign-born, but that does not mean that the Philippines does not tote its own specific traditions that set it apart it from other Asian cultures.

Passing on Lolo and Lola's Filipino Food Recipes

When you’re yearning for that Filipino food fix, where do you go? The modern Pilipino fusion joint in the city? The nearest Jollibee for some sweet spaghetti and fried chicken? The turo-turo restaurant for some instant ulam (dishes)? The bakery selling pan de sal, fresh out of the oven? For the fortunate Pilipinos and Fil-Ams, our answer is: home. Nothing beats our favorite Pilipino dishes like the ones created and perfected by our family. Filipino-Foods

Recipes have been passed down for generations, thus becoming as much a part of holiday gatherings at the attendees at the table. For instance, some dishes that never fail to make it to our holiday and celebration spreads include my mom’s lumpia, my auntie’s fruit salad and my grandma’s (or lola's) cassava cake.

When I was in high school, my mom told me to call my grandma to ask her for her cassava cake recipe. She had made it many times before when she lived with us, but I was too busy with my childhood duties – such as rollerblading, concocting potions with berries and leaves, and making mud traps for the mountain cats that prowled around the backyard at night – to appreciate it.  So, I called up my grandma, who had moved back out to California for work, and asked her to divulge her recipe secrets to me. This proved to be a success, as I’m now responsible for making it during holidays, parties, and whenever someone is craving it. Cassava cake is easily my family’s favorite dessert. I have learned to bake two batches, or risk being scolded by everyone (including my younger siblings) for not making enough. When I was in the Philippines last year, I had the chance to make it from scratch; there’s no kitchen workout like grating cassava!

Classic cassava cake, made of grated cassava, coconut, condensed milk, and other dangerously delicious ingredients. I contemplated revealing my grandma’s cassava cake recipe to you all, but that would contradict the purpose of this piece; you should all go out and seek recipes from your family and loved ones!

Unfortunately, my personal Pilipino recipe book remains quite bare. When I’m home, I tend to spend most of my time in the kitchen. It is in this most sacred room of my home that I learned my parents' Adobo and Sinigang recipes. But this isn’t enough. When I am finally stateside again, I will resume my place as sous (and sometimes head) chef in the kitchen, picking up more Pilipino dish and dessert recipes. As a young Pilipina, it is my responsibility to preserve the cuisine that helps define our palette and lifestyle. There are so many dishes I have no idea how to make, and it’d be a shame if they were lost. I hope to build up my recipe repertoire; not just with Pilipino dishes, but with all the tricks of the cooking trade that my family continues to employ in the kitchen and during backyard BBQ cookouts.

Next on my list: Pinakbet.

Photo credits: All I Wanna Do is Bake and Ang Sarap