Most people around the world think of Christmas in terms of the colors red and green. Filipinos though, see Christmas in terms of lilac and yellow as it heralds the season of the puto bumbong and the bibingka.
Puto bumbong derives from the words “puto” (steamed glutinous rice) and “bumbong” (bamboo canon or cylinder).
It is considered a delicacy that has a unique preparation. It makes use of a “lansungan,” a heat steamer mounted on a pot of boiling water. It is kettle shaped with (ordinarily) two tubes that protrude and hold the “bumbong” or bamboo tubes filled with the needed ingredients and steamed through.
It takes only seconds for the puto bumbong to cook and the speed at which it is done is almost as fascinating as the taste. Almost.
While we Filipinos take it for granted that somehow the puto bumbong will be available come Christmas time, we asked two puto bumbong vendors if it is still worthwhile to go into the puto bumbong business.
- 1 kg Malagkit/galapong (glutinous) rice, mixed with 125 grams ordinary rice
- 1/5 tsp. Lilac or violet food coloring
- Pandan leaves
- 1 pc Shredded mature coconut
- Butter or margarine
- Banana leaves
Preparation and Cooking
- Soak pre-ground malagkit/galapong or glutinous rice and ordinary rice mixture in salted water with lilac/violet food coloring for 1-4 hours. Let dry overnight by putting inside a flour sack.
- Put something heavy on top to squeeze out water.
- Mixture is ready for cooking the following morning.
- Or to manually grind rice mix – Slowly grind using a stone grinder or manual grinder. Do not put too much water in while grinding. It will delay drying of milled ingredients. Too much water on the other hand will cause the mixture to be sticky. Put milled ingredients onto cotton cloth and tie corners of the cloth. Let drip. When the mixture is almost dried, press by using a heavy object to remove excess water. Let stand overnight.
- Place pandan leaves in water to be steamed. Heat steamer (lansungan) with enough water.
- Put a small amount of rice mixture inside bamboo tubes (bumbong) about3/4′s full.
The Puto Bumbong Enterprise
To find a vendor, we went to Lourdes church located at the corner of Kanlaon and Retire Streets in Quezon City which has three pufo bumbong cum bibingka stalls on site.
Nanay Lourdes Dalisay feeds a family of six and has been a puto bumbong vendor for the past 10 years. She got into the business first as a “tindera” or seller until she gained enough confidence and experience to risk it out on her own.
Her stall is the third from the corner.
Nanay Lourdes begins selling on the 1st of October each year until the year’s close on December 31st. She sells from 6am to ipm, Mondays to Sundays.
An eight-kilo purchase consisting of six kilos of malagkit/galapong or glutinous rice and two kilos of ordinary rice would last her three days until the peak of the selling season where her eight kilo purchase would last her only a day.
She says that eight-kilo yields about 80 servings of puto bumbong.
She purchases the rice from her suki vendor and has them already milled at the shop beside it for P10 per kilo and an additional five pesos for the food coloring (P85 pesos total). Doing this, she says, saves a lot of preparation time.
Apart from the rice that she buys, Nanay Lourdes also stocks her stall with margarine, white sugar, banana leaves, shredded mature coconut, water, gas for cooking and plastics.
Aside from the ingredients that she makes use of, the hardworking vendor also invests in a “lansungan” bought at the dry goods section of the local community market for P300 pesos, as well as the “bumbong’s” or bamboo cylinders for PhP25 pesos each and an adequate measure of katsa cloth to wrap around it to help keep her hands from being steam burned. The lansungan, she says, lasts for 1-3 seasons.
She has a plastic box to keep in her freshly made puto bumbong as well as a large stytofoam box to keep in her uncooked wares.
As for the wooden stall, Nanay Lourdes cannot remember anymore its cost but says it has lasted her a good number of years.
Nanay Lourdes says that there are days that selling slows down and she has to deal with “dead time” and more importantly, the crazy schedule that allows for very little sleep which, to her, is the hardest part of the job.
She sells her puto bumbong at P10 per serving and each serving has three puto bumbong slices. Hard sell is when customers ask her for a 3-for-PhP25 deal to which she gives in.
Little known fact for us Filipinos because we consume as we buy, but according to Nanay Lourdes, puto bum-bong has a shelf life of only two days.
Asked if her puto bumbong sells more than her bibingka’s, she says that they are about even. Some people prefer one over the other and others buy both. She says however, that puto bumbong is both easier and cheaper to make than bibingka.
The prime advantage of selling at a church site even with the competitors who are also her friends, is that people know where to look for you already, in fact, she says, they expect you to be there.
Going the Non-Traditional Route
Nanay Lenlen Parpan, on the other hand, feeds a family of five and has been a puto bumbong vendor for the past 20 years. She learned the trade from her own “nanay.”
Her stall is situated at the corner of Dimasalang and Retiro Streets, Manila (near the 7-11 store). She has no competitors but has companion vendors of balut/penoy, fish balls, barbeque and calamares to keep her company.
Nanay Lenlen began this year to sell her puto bumbong year round except during the rainy season when she opts to sell banana cue and grilled corn on the cob. Her selling hours are from ssopm to upm each day, Mondays to Sundays as well.
A 15-kilo buy consisting of 13 kilos of malagkit/galapong or glutinous (at PhP40 per kilo) and 2 kilos of ordinary rice (at PhP20 per kilo) would last her just a day. Though there are some leftovers on occasion, these are small enough in number for her to give to her family or friends of the family. To begin with, she says, her kids partake of portions even before she begins selling, so she isn’t definite on the number sold each day but her marketing stays the same.
Apart from the rice that she buys, Nanay Lenlen also stocks her stall with margarine, white sugar, banana leaves, pandan leaves, shredded mature coconut, water, gas for cooking, plastics, and forks to loan.
The pandan leaves she mixes in the water she uses for steaming and her daily allowance for gas bought at the gasoline station nearby is at 35 pesos per day.
Aside from the ingredients that she makes use of, Nanay Lenlen also invested in a “lansungan” which was custom built for her from a surplus wing of a plane costing her P650. The “bumbong’s” or bamboo cylinders she gets from the local community market dry goods section for PhP25 each and an adequate measure of cotton cloth to wrap around it for the protection of her hands. The lansungan she had made has so far lasted her for five seasons.
She has a plastic box to keep in her freshly made puto bumbong and a bowl for her puto bumbong mixture to stand in. She shares that she mixes an undisclosed amount of margarine into her puto bumbong mixture already so that it glides really well.
The stall she has made of wood she cannot remember the cost but was also custom built and serves her well.
Nanay Lenlen sells her puto bumbong at P15 per serving and each serving has four puto bumbong slices.
Asked why she sells puto bumbong only and not bibingka, she says that selling bibingka requires an assistant and once the charcoal gets going, it has to be paid close attention to. Selling just puto bumbong lessens the daily work stress that she has to deal with.
The prime advantage of selling where she does aside from having no competitors is that she doesn’t have to adhere to the Christmas season. Where her stall is, people alight from the puj’s to cross catch another puj and these are her staple customers.
She says she looks forward to the “Undas” as she does brisk selling on those days and will be resting on the 3rd of November.
You might also catch her if the Sheraton Manila asks her to do a repeat sell of her puto bumbong during the holiday mornings (16th December onwards) which she had a chance to do last year. Beware though that her puto bumbong sells there at PhP47 per serving.