Setting The Table
The dish that I intend to make for my cookbook project is something called Bibingka. Bibingka is a fairly thin, unfrosted, spongy cake made with sweet rice flour and cream of coconut. This dish comes from the Philippines where it is very commonly made around the Christmas season. Majority of Fillipinos practice the Roman Catholic religion, and one of the major events for this religion is something called “Night Mass”. This is a series of a nine-day mass that goes from December 16th to December 24th, where you honor the Blessed Virgin Mary as Christmas approaches. This is can also be commonly known as “Misa de Gallo” (Bibingka: Orgins and Benefits). After mass on the last day, there will be vendors outside the churches selling various “treasured” foods, but the most commonly seen and appreciated is bibingka. This is what gives it significance, as it has become an image of the Christmas season in the Philippines, and is a treat they don’t usually get in other times of the year. Most people typically choose to buy bibingka from the vendors, rather than make it themselves because can be quite time consuming and has a particular way of being baked. It is traditionally made with no electric appliances, simply just a clay pan and some heated coals. This method of baking requires a lot of time, patience and energy (ABS CBN News). This is where I am going to come into a slight issue when I begin to physically make this dish myself, as I will have to modify the recipe to cook it in the oven, which will not give me the true Filipino baking effect. Another issue that I am going to run into is when making this dish the pan is typically lined with fresh banana leaves, which is also something I will not be able to do. Other than that, I feel like there will be no other big issues that I will run into when it comes time to make this dish myself. It was the images of this cake that first caught my attention, as it is an unusual but intriguing texture. Once I looked into it a little more, I was also interested in the fact that it uses coconut cream, as that is something that I enjoy and have tried to incorporate more into my life. Overall, I am excited to get to try this dish as it could be something that I introduce to my family, and it could end up becoming a tradition for us around the Christmas season as well. This dish is obviously considered a religious dish, as it is associated and primarily only made around times of religious celebration for the Roman Catholics. It isn’t just an everyday dish that you can find in your market, it is made with meaning and has certain guidelines of when and how to make it. As you dig deeper into the history of bibingka as well as the history of each ingredient, you will find that there are a lot of different religious ties that overall make it a spiritual dish.
Bibingka, a Filipino rice cake, has been a symbol during the Christmas seasons for Roman Catholics in the Philippines for many generations. This dish was traditionally very time consuming to make and contained multiple ingredients that were not always easy to get. Some of these unusual ingredients include things such as full banana leaves, rice flour, coconut milk and even salted duck eggs. While I have altered the recipe to make it easier and more convenient to make, I can’t help but wonder how people hundreds of years ago thought to use ingredients such as these, and what they went through in order to gather them.
While using banana leaves as a liner for baking is not something you commonly see today in the United States, this was a very popular technique that people used many years ago and is still frequently used in South America and Asia. According to “The Versatile Banana Leaf”, cooking food wrapped in banana leaves could even date back to the stone age, which is a time before pottery was invented. People initially started using banana leaves because cooks found that they needed a container to put food in so they could cook it over a fire, and because banana leaves are very large and stable, they worked perfectly. After this first discovery, the leaves were then used for more than just containers, as people realized that it gives food more flavor, and keeps whatever you are cooking moist and prevents it from burning. According to the “Philippines Insider”, there is an abundance of banana trees in the Philippines, so it was no problem for the natives to grab one before they began cooking. I feel like the use of these banana leaves can relate to environmental justice due to the fact that people are using all parts of our environment to aid in their cooking. The use of the leaves as a container is eco-friendly and respectable to our environment in many ways.
Another uncommon ingredient that is used to make Bibingka is rice flour. Rice flour was originally seen in the Asian region with countries such as Japan, China, and the Philippines, where rice is considered a staple food. According to an article written by Padma Veeranki, the process of creating rice flour is actually fairly simple as all it includes is soaking the rice in water for an hour, grinding it until it turns into a powder, and then sifting out the residue. As time has gone on, rice flour is now more commonly seen around the world and can be found in many more baked goods. This has to do with the fact that “rice flour is also considered a healthier substitute for wheat flour which is more fattening and harder to digest and utilize the body” (Natural Wellbeing). This relates back to the element of well-being because this particular ingredient in my dish is essential for flavor and texture, but yet at the same time has many health benefits and perks along with it. The fact that this dish is gluten free due to the rice flour is overall beneficial for the well-being of the consumers.
Another locational ingredient that is used to make bibingka is coconut milk. Coconuts have been used for their milk for as long as they have been around, and cooking with the milk is an older trend as well. The process of making coconut milk is fairly simple as well and can be done with little to no equipment needed. Traditionally according to “Coconut, the Soul food of the Tropics” to make coconut milk you simply grate the meat of the coconut, then soak it in the coconut water for a few minutes, then drain out the water and squeeze the coconut shavings removing all the liquid, which is essentially your coconut milk. This milk can then be used for various different purposes but is especially favored to be used in desserts, as it makes them thicker and creamier. The use of coconut milk can relate back to social justice, with the fact that coconuts are very easily accessible to all people living in the Philippines that desire to make a dish of bibingka. All people have the ability to retrieve coconuts at their own access, no one person has a greater advantage to use this ingredient than another. This small form of equality is essentially social justice.
The last unique ingredient that is often used as a topper for traditional bibingka is salted duck eggs. According to an article from “Ifood.tv” salted duck eggs are said to have originated in China, and when properly made they should be soaked in brine for at least a month before they are consumed. After that, duck eggs are essentially treated the same way as chicken eggs, they just have a bigger and richer yolk, and have a higher concentration of nutrients and protein. Since this is the only animal- related ingredient in bibingka, it can be tied back to religious freedom. Bibingka is a dish mainly eaten by people of the Roman Catholic religion, which have no real everyday food restrictions they are required to follow. Due to this, people have the ability and freedom to add duck egg to their baking if they would like, but it is also not a required element of the recipe.
The true history and origin of the dish bibingka itself is uncertain, as there is no research to when this dish was first made. However, each ingredient within the dish has a different story of how they became what they are today, and they each have a different process of how they are made. As a whole, this dish can relate back to all four religious elements of well-being, environmental justice, religious freedom, and social justice in many ways.
Over break I got the opportunity to make the Filipino coconut cake I’ve been researching in the comfort of my warm kitchen with the assistance of my very supportive family. It was a snowy night in the middle of the “bomb cyclone” that hit Colorado, so it seemed like a perfect night to bake. After dinner, my father and I gathered all of our ingredients such as sugar, milk, coconut, rice flour (etc) and starting following the recipe. It was very early on when we started combining the ingredients that I realized that the recipe I had found was for a very large cake, and we probably should have cut all of the measurements in half. This was just the first of a few obstacles we ran into while baking.
To start, we combined the rice flour and baking powder into a large bowl. We then combined the canned coconut milk and whole milk into a different bowl, which is where we faced a few more issues. First, the coconut milk separated, so the top was a hard chunk of coconut oil that did not break up as easily as we thought it would. There were still little chunks of coconut oil in my final product, but it did not affect the flavor or texture too much. Then, I was a cup short of whole milk, so I ended up having to use some almond milk as well. Luckily this worked out fine and you couldn’t even taste it. We then combined the sugars, butter and eggs into the mixer and whipped them up. Once it was combined we added in the wet mixture and the dry mixture and used the mixer to combine all the ingredients together.
Finally, we added in the shredded coconut flakes. The final batter was very runny and thin which my dad and I thought was weird, but we just left it as it was and poured it into the pan. We then stuck it in the oven to bake for one hour, not very optimistic about how it would turn out.
As the cake was cooking, I kept checking it and watched it rise. While it still didn’t look very pretty, it started to smell very sweet and delicious. This brought back some hope for my dad and I as we patiently waited for it to be done. About 65 minutes later, we finally pulled it out of the oven as the top of the cake was golden brown. We set it out to cool and its sweet doughy smell started to fill the house.
The moment of truth and what we were all waiting for, the first bite. I cut a slice out and attempted to use the spatula to lift it out of the pan, but it crumbled and fell all over the counter. I picked up a little piece and set it inside my mouth, and the flavor wasn’t quite as I was expecting. It tasted very sweet, and had a very strong coconut flavor. Since I like coconut, I actually really enjoyed the flavor and thought it was quite tasty. However, it was the texture that I didn’t love. The bottom and outside of the cake was crispy and melted in your mouth, but the middle parts were sort of soggy and mushy, and almost had a corn bread texture. This is not entirely what the texture is supposed to be, the mushy middle I think was simply because it was not totally baked all the way through. This was because the pan we used was taller than the one that was recommended in the recipe, so since we had so much batter in a smaller area the middle was not baked through even though the top and edges were crispy.
Personally, I am not a fan of soggy foods, so the texture bothered me, but I was torn because the flavor was so good. I cut out another slice (and did my best not to make it crumbles all over) and brought it to my father to try. He has a huge sweet tooth so it is not a surprise that he loved it! He even really enjoyed the texture, he liked the fact that it was crunchy but also soft and squishy, or as he would say “it’s like an explosion in my mouth”. While I did not eat much more of the cake, my dad went back each night and had another slice.
Overall, I would say my kitchen time for the most part was as success. While everything didn’t go 100% smooth, it all worked out in the end and I had an edible product. Even though my father enjoyed the cake, I don’t think I will be making it again due to the fact that it was a lot of work for something that only tastes average. However, what made it such a good experience overall was the time in the kitchen, as cooking with my dad and family is not something that I get to do very often. It is because of this that I am very thankful for this project and memories that were made with it!
At first glance, one would assume that there is nothing ethically wrong with my dish that I have been researching, Bibingka. It is just simply a sweet cake with some religious meaning behind it, nothing extra or special. However, the deeper you dig into it, and when you start to evaluate the well-being, social justice, environmental justice and religious freedom around it, some people may begin to question its ethical viability.
In regards to the well-being of my dish, some consumers may argue that the amount of sugar in it is unethical. The recipe calls for 2 ½ cups of sugar in total, and the cake not being overly large means the amount of sugar per slice is quite high. Not only is this high amount of sugar unhealthy for the average person to eat, someone who is diabetic would not be able to eat it at all which some would consider not fair. This dish also contains milk so any individuals who may be lactose intolerant or vegan would also not be able to consume any of it. Finally, some people may argue that the overall nutrition of this dish is unethical because there is nothing nutritional about it. In has no protein, fruits, vegetables or any ingredients that are beneficial towards one’s well-being. While it may be delicious and taste good, when you truly look into the ingredients and what you are putting into your body, people may argue that this dish only harms your well-being, which in reality would not make it ethical for people to consume.
Within social justice, some people may argue that it is a privilege to make this dish and not everyone has the resources needed in order to make or consume bibingka. For example, some of the ingredients such as rice flour, coconut milk, and banana leaves are unusual and not something the average person would just have in their pantry. In order to make this dish it would require a trip to the store, and then at least $20 to buy all of the ingredients. Along with that, you also must have an oven to be able to cook the cake, along with many other bowls and utensils. Some people simply do not have access to all of this, which is what would make this dish unethical because not everyone has an equal opportunity to bake or consume it.
While it may not seem like it, even the environmental justice of this dish is jeopardized when you make it. All of the plastic containers that the ingredients you used came in will be thrown away, which is not healthy for the environment as a whole. When you use the oven, fossil fuels are emitted which increases the pollution in our environment. In relation with this, most if not all of the ingredients used to make this dish are from another state or country, which means that they either traveled by truck, train or plane to get here. All these methods of transportation once again release greenhouse gas emissions that are only adding to the pollution. People such as environmentalists could especially argue that baking bibingka is unethical. An environmentalist is “a person who is concerned with or advocated the protection of the environment”(Merriam-Webster), so each component of making Bibingka that harms the environment in any sort of way would be against the beliefs of an environmentalist.
Religious freedom can become a huge factor when talking about the ethical viability of bibingka, due to the dietary restrictions many religions have. For example, those who practice the religion of Hinduism would not be able to eat this dish since it contains eggs and most Hindus are vegetarian. People who practice the religion of Jainism would also not be able to eat this dish due to the dairy in it and the fact that they do not eat anything that is a living organism or comes from a living organism. Also, this dish is primarily only sold around the time of night mass in the Philippines, so if you want to enjoy this treat at a different time of the year it will be much harder to find. With all of these religious freedom restrictions people may encounter with Bibingka, people would also say it is not ethical in this matter.
Once you take into consideration well-being, social justice, environmental justice and religious freedom, many people could propose an argument that the overall dish of Bibingka is unethical to bake or eat. There are many outside factors to this dish that are not thought about initially, and that will change your outlook as a whole. However, I feel that within any dish you could discovers areas of moral disagreement, and there is nothing overly about Bibingka that makes it any more unethical than other dishes. I do not overly support most of my claims here, but there are many people in our society that would.
After spending the whole semester thinking about, researching and making the dish of Bibingka, I can confidently say I learned a lot about it and the religion behind it. Initially I picked the dish based on the pictures and the ingredients that were in it because it contained a lot of my favorite things. However, what I didn't realize was that image would end up meaning nothing to me (especially after I made the dish myself and it looked nothing like the pictures), and it would be the meaning behind it that would be what I loved about the dish. To people of the Roman Catholic religion, this dish is a symbol of the holiday season as they eat it during night mass which is the days preceding Christmas. However since this dish is not related to my religion in any way and I do not attend night mass, I associate this dish towards laughter in the kitchen with my family. While I may not have the same connection as the Roman Catholics do, I have my own sort of connection that means just as much and is just as treasurable. This connection could also be made spiritual for me as well though, whether it be that I spend time with God as I am making it, or we making it every Christmas as well as a religious holiday tradition. One of the greatest things I feel that I have learned through this is the fact that you can relate any dish back to religion, and every sort of food is religious to someone. I find this fascinating because that means that any simple dish has many various spiritual meanings to all different kinds of people. While bibingka isn't a very common dish and is primarily only made by those in the Philippines in the Roman Catholic Religion, it still could have a completely different significance and meaning to someone else. This dish also gave me a slight taste as to what people of the Philippines eat which was very interesting and nothing like I have ever tried before. While bibingka is considered a cake, it is unlike any cakes we eat here in the United States and what makes it stand out is its unusual texture and very strong coconut taste. Overall I greatly enjoyed this project as a whole and my dish of bibingka, and am very thankful for everything that it taught me!
Juan, and Kakanin. “Bibingka: Origin and Benefits.” Juan's Kakanin, 27 Oct. 2014, juankakanin.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/bibingka-origin-and-benefits/.
ABS-CBN News. “Bibingka among World's Most Traditional Holiday Foods.” ABS-CBN News, ABS-CBN News, 3 Jan. 2013, news.abs-cbn.com/lifestyle/01/02/13/bibingka-among-worlds-most-traditional-holiday-foods.
“Kakanin: The History of 7 Our Favorite Sticky Rice Snacks.” Pepper, 24 Aug. 2016, www.pepper.ph/the-history-behind-7-of-our-favorite-kakanin/.
“About Salted Duck Egg.” Ifood.tv, ifood.tv/duck/salted-duck-egg/about.
“Coconut, the Soul Food of the Tropics.” Vegetarians in Paradise/Calcium Basics Charts/Vegan Vegetarian Sources, www.vegparadise.com/highestperch58.html.
“Tale of the Banana Tree.” Philippines Guide, 7 Nov. 2010, www.philippinesinsider.com/myths-folklore-superstition/tale-of-the-banana-tree/.
Grodinsky, Peggy, and Houston Chronicle. “The Versatile Banana Leaf.” Houston Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, 9 Aug. 2011, www.chron.com/life/food/article/The-versatile-banana-leaf-1779950.php.
Baker, Liren. “Bibingka: Filipino Coconut-Rice Cake.” Kitchen Confidante®, 18 Apr. 2018, kitchenconfidante.com/bibingka-filipino-coconut-rice-cake-bread.
Created with images by Lebensmittelfotos - "coconut coconuts exotic" • Sidekix Media - "untitled image" • dimitrisvetsikas1969 - "banana plant leaf"