Bibingka is a food in the Philippines and is one of the many varieties of rice cakes in Filipino cuisine. Its taste is usually slightly sweet, with a little bit of salty undertone for the contrast. Depending on the versions, this rice cake’s texture can range from being spongy to being sticky. It is also categorized as a “kakanin,” a collective term for foods made from rice or rice flour.
The origin and the history of bibingka is uncertain, but the name itself bears a striking similarity to an Indian desert called “bebinca.” This type of pudding is different from the Filipino rice cake, as the former does not contain any rice ingredients and is baked several times after each pudding layer is added one at a time. The method of cooking, however, is similar because both dishes require heat over and under them while baking. The name bibingka also has some Chinese influence, as “bi” is the Chinese word for rice.
The primary ingredients of the bibingka are rice flour mixed with water to form a creamy batter. Coconut water can replace the ordinary water to add a distinct flavor. To make the cake softer and richer, milk and eggs can be added, along with some brown sugar to make the cake sweet. Modern versions of the rice cake sometimes contain small amounts of butter to give both the texture and flavor more richness.
The batter is then poured into individual muffin containers coated with a banana leaf, making it easier to remove the bibingka when cooked, and the metal containers need not much cleaning. The banana leaf also gives out an aroma that the rice cake absorbs. The traditional way of cooking this rice cake can be tedious because the clay oven has to be prepared a certain way. The ovens should be preheated with coals underneath, before the muffin containers are placed on the surface. The containers are then covered with a sheet of banana leaf before a basket of heated coals is placed on top of it.
Various toppings can also be added on the bibingka, such as shredded coconut, sugar sprinkles, slice of salted duck eggs, and even grated cheese. The common technique to add these toppings is to remove the bibingkas from the oven after they have slightly risen, place the toppings, and then put the bibingkas back into the oven. The rice cake is then served while still warm, sometimes with a slice of butter on the side for smearing.
Bibingka is particularly common in the Christmas season during the “Simbang Gabi” or the Midnight Mass, occurring a couple of weeks before the Christmas day. Churches would usually be lined up with numerous food vendors with several small clay ovens, ready to serve the rice cakes to churchgoers after the mass. Bibingka is most often accompanied by the purple “puto bumbong,” another type of “kakanin.”