Essay from the Field

--Field Work / Field Talk--

In addition to lechon, there are three seasonal foods for Christmas: fruitcake, queso de bola (ball -shaped cheese), and jamon (ham). The loaf- or round-shaped fruitcake is a dark, heavy English-style cake made with dried fruits, nuts and rum syrup, but it is said to be "American." Some families say that, "it's our family tradition to bake them at home… we bake many loaves and give them to relatives and friends," indicating that their house is equipped with a costly gas/electric baking oven.

Queso de bola is a sharp-flavored orange-yellow cheese with red skin and shaped in a ball. I do not know when this Spanish-named, English-origin, Holland-made cheddar cheese came to the Philippines. It may have been at the end of the Spanish period or during the American period, when various imported foods first became available in Cebu.

While I was in Cebu, a food program on TV showed Filipinos in New York saying they missed "their" cheese. Queso de bola has already become incorporated into the "taste of the Philippines." A first-generation "Fil-Am" (Filipino American) chef said she "grew up with it." In fact, the complete red ball is only seen in December, but now I realize I also ate Queso de bola almost every day, in shredded bits: on banana-ketchup soft spaghetti, baked rice, baked soft macaroni in Filipino-style sweet tomato sauce, mamon (sponge-cake), bibingka (rice & coconut cake), puto (rice cake) or ensaimada (sweet yellow buns coated with sugar and margarine). 5

  1. My friend told me that the sweet spaghetti is the "taste of home" missed by many Filipinos abroad. Now, Jolibee (fast-food franchise store), Goldilocks (bakeshop), and Magic Melt (Cebuano bakeshop) have branches in California, to serve Filipinos and Filipino Americans.
"The Christmas Table in Cebu, the Philippines"
YAMAGUCHI Kiyoko (Division of Southeast Asian Area Studies)
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