'Crackers, Coins and Chaos: A Filipino New Year's Eve

Tuesday, January 4, 2011 28 comments
Lentils and Longganisa

Waking up just shy of noon with a woozy head and the need for a really large cup of coffee can only mean one thing: a most excellent party the night before!

In the past, Mr. Noodle and I have spent New Year's Eve by counting down to midnight with the television, then sleepily exchanging chaste kisses before climbing into bed at 12:03 a.m. But since moving to Manila two months ago, we've taken a decidedly when-in-Rome approach to celebrations, starting with the ushering of this Annus Novus in true Filipino style - loudly, boisterously and with no holds barred. By the time I fell into a blissful, cocktail-induced sleep in the first wee hours of 2011, my eyes were stinging, my ears were ringing and my body felt like the PacMan's punching bag. Caught up in a post-New Year's Eve, riot police-directed crowd dispersal? Nah. . . just a typical barangay fireworks display and our family's special brand of festivities.

Pyrotechnics, Pinoy-style

From backyard 4th of July shows that light up small-town neighborhoods to the New Year's Eve spectacles illuminating night skies from Times Square in New York to Times Square in Hong Kong, fireworks are the exclamation points to myriad celebrations. But as entertaining as today's sophisticated pyrotechnics are and far removed from their earliest iteration centuries ago in China (bamboo sticks thrown into fires to pop in the heat), their original purpose remains the same - to ward off evil spirits with startling bursts of sight and sound. To this end, large metropolises from New York to Sydney employ stunning visual displays of color and light to blind any spook intent on New Year malfeasance. Filipinos, on the other hand, prefer the Big Bang Theory - the louder, the better.

Filipino fireworks stand
(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Pinoy paputok are not so much firecrackers as small-scale bombs that are almost as deafening and just as dangerous. This season's nationwide tally of fireworks-related injuries is well over 500, with children accounting for one-third of them, despite a widespread campaign urging the use of other forms of noisemakers and the outright ban of rockets with names like 'Atomic Bomb' and 'Goodbye Philippines'. Days before New Year's Eve, loud booms reverberated throughout metropolitan Manila as people made dry runs of their holiday arsenal, testing my nerves and scaring the wits out of one recently transplanted Boxer more accustomed to serene Minnesota. On the actual night of festivities, being indoors wasn't much insulation - I spent a good portion of the evening jumping out of my skin with each explosion that sounded nerve-wrackingly close. Evil spirits may have been the intended target of these aural assaults, but they did a pretty good job rattling us benign mortals, too.

Games People Play

Competing to form
longest Human Chain
Thankfully, ordnance-free activities were planned for our family gathering. Fueled by an early Media Noche (midnight meal) of lechon, lumpiang sariwa, spaghetti and crema de fruta cake, and lubricated with free-flowing, vodka-spiked punch, we threw ourselves into raucous party games such as egg-tossing and Human Chain that spilled onto the streets outside. There was a competition to see who could stretch out a 'Happy New Year' greeting the longest (à la 'Gooooaaaaaaallll.....!') and a round of Musical Chairs that turned into a UFC match between cousin and aunt, complete with headlocks and takedowns. But the peak of craziness was yet to come, when it would be time for the most eagerly anticipated event of the night: the Tossing of Coins.

Waiting for the shower of coins...
In a uniquely Filipino New Year's Eve tradition, coins are thrown inside the home as the clock strikes midnight to bring prosperity to the household throughout the coming months; for guests, it's immediately lucrative as they scramble madly for the scattered change. In my mother's home province of Marinduque, this practice is called Paakyatan ("to go up" in Tagalog, so-called because it begins on the ground floor and moves to upper levels) and is also performed during baptisms and weddings. This year, I helped my father toss pesos to the dozens of celebrants jostling for position, some armed with bags and small buckets to catch the flying cash. I worried about pegging people on the head with a shower of hard metal, but no one seemed to mind and soon enough, I was letting loose a barrage of currency. Watching the ensuing chaos, I think it's safer holding a firecracker - one auntie of a certain age lay sprawled on her belly, arms flapping to sweep up coins on the floor, while a younger cousin later reported that someone had sat on his head.

A fairly accurate representation of the coin toss chaos
(Photo credit: Jonathan D. Colman/Flickr)
It was a few minutes of shrieking, grappling, frenzied, insane melee and after the last coin was fought over, it was finally time to enjoy a calming bowl of lugaw.

Familiar to many of you as congee or arroz caldo, this simple rice porridge is made with chicken stock and meat, and topped with lightly fried tofu cubes (tokwa) and tender boiled pigs' ears, a sprinkling of toasted garlic and chopped green onions, and a dash of fresh calamansi juice and patis (fish sauce). As with so many aspects of a Filipino celebration, there is undoubtedly some sort of symbolism and historic tradition attached to consuming this soup, but I suspect that it's really just a preemptive New Year's hangover cure. Nevertheless, food symbolism is a kinder, gentler and more appetizing way to augur abundance - I'd rather be eating a delicious representation of coin than flailing around on the floor for the real thing.

Eat Your Money

Across many cultures, the celebration of a new year is the perfect time to practice certain traditions meant to summon good luck and great prosperity for the household. Most common is the consumption of foods that represent money through form, color or other symbolism. For instance, the circular shape of coins are evoked by the round donuts called oliebollen consumed by the Dutch on New Year's Eve, while round legumes are enjoyed in the American South (black-eyed peas) and in South America (lentils). Eastern Europeans partake of fish, whose silver scales mimick metal currency, and of leafy greens such as cabbage that stand in for paper bills. Filipinos also participate in food-as-money traditions, gathering on the table 13* different round fruits for each month of the year plus one. *According to some, the number 13 is considered lucky among Chinese, as its pronunciation in certain dialects sounds like "assured growth" or "definitely living". Conversely, some may view it as unlucky because 1 + 3 equals the very unlucky number 4, which sounds like the word for 'death'.

I failed rather miserably in procuring the requisite number of fruits, managing only five, including tomatoes (hey, it's a fruit!) but fared much better with our New Year's Day meal. With any luck, the success of my first cooked dish of the year is a positive sign of prosperity and abundance in our kitchen for 2011.

Lentils and Longganisa

There were so many coin-inspired foods from around the world from which to choose our New Year's Day 'prosperity' meal. While I was quite tempted to have an all-cake table filled with those Danish oliebollen or Greek vasilopita, I settled on a savory Italian dish rich in its simplicity and flush with flavor: Cotechino con Lenticchie. A specialty of the city of Modena (and protected as such with PGI [Protected Geographical Indication] status), cotechino is traditionally a fresh sausage made from pork meat, fat and skin, although pre-cooked, foil-encased versions are now more widely used. I had faint hope of finding it somewhere in Manila, but I didn't want to settle for regular Italian sausage as a substitute. And why should I, given the variety of excellent native sausages, called longganisa, here? Sure enough, I found a perfect candidate.

Like cotechina, Lucban Longganisa is the namesake specialty of one town, in this case located in Quezon province just south of Manila. These sausages have a rich porky unctuousness in texture, a pleasantly sour tang from vinegar and a pretty reddish hue from paprika or atsuete/annatto (though artificial food coloring is also used). As I have never tasted cotechino before, I can't offer a definitive comparison, but I was pleased to read that Lucban longganisa seems to share similarities in texture, color and cooking with the Modena salsicce. With that, we had our lucky New Year's meal of coin-shaped pork sausage and legumes - Italy by way of the Philippines!


2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 small garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 cup lentilles du Puy, rinsed
1 bay leaf
Fresh water (or use a mild broth, if you'd prefer)
Patis (fish sauce) and ground black pepper

10-12 Lucban longganisa links (or approx. 1lb of sausages)

To prepare:

Lentilles du Puy
Heat olive oil at medium-high heat in a sauté pan, then add garlic, onions, carrot and celery; sauté until softened. Add lentils and stir to mix well with the vegetables. Add the bay leaf, then add water or broth to cover the lentils by about 1/2 inch. Reduce heat to medium-low and bring to a slow simmer; cover partially to let steam escape and stir on occasion to prevent lentils from sticking to the bottom. As they cook, lentils should remain covered with liquid, so add as needed. Test lentils for desired doneness. When done, remove bay leaf and add patis and pepper to taste before serving.

Just before the lentils finish cooking, place longganisa in a small pan or skillet and cover halfway with water. Cook at a gentle simmer, turning occasionally, until done (these sausages are quite small, about 2.5" long, so they should cook quickly). Remove sausages and drain water from the pan, returning it to medium heat. Carefully prick the casings and drain out excess juices before removing the skins entirely. Carefully return the longganisa to the pan and fry until a bit browned on the outside. Remove from pan and slice into round pieces.

To serve, spoon lentils onto plates and arrange sliced longganisa over them.

Buona Fortuna! 
[Good Luck!]

Manigong Bagong Taon sa Inyong Lahat! 
[A Prosperous New Year to All!]


  • Anonymous said...

    Wonderful to learn about Filipino New Year's Eve traditions! Sounds like a wonderful celebration and I'm loving the sound of lentils and longganisa dish, sounds delicious for sure! Happy New Year to you, I'm looking forward to hearing all about your exciting adventures in 2011!

  • zerrin said...

    Sounds like you had a great time! I love the tradition of throwing coins, must be fun!And it's very interesting that people eat foods representing money. I always love circular shape of foods like peas, beans, lentils. Good luck is always with me then! I love the lentils, sounds so tasty with celery, garlic and carrot. The color of longganisa on the top is gorgeous!
    Wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2011!

  • lisaiscooking said...

    Happy New Year! I didn't know that fireworks started as bamboo sticks--interesting. Sounds like you had a fantastic celebration, and lentils at the start of the year is a favorite of mine!

  • Midge said...

    Nothing beats old-school Filipino traditions for the Holidays. ;)

    Oh, and I love the recipe. I was thinking of making it with a combo of Lucban and the more garlicky Vigan longganizas.

  • Daily Spud said...

    What a blast you had for New Year's Eve - I hope it augurs well for the year to come! Meanwhile, I suspect that, if I had to come up with coin-like food, I would end up deploying some small, round potatoes to good effect :D

  • Jenni said...

    Sounds like a Rousing Good Time was had by all! Happy New Year to you and your family:)

    The sausage looks amazing, by the way.

    And also, would you please throw some money at my head? Thank you.

  • Lori said...

    I can already tell that 2011 is going to be a year of amazing posts! What a great experience. My husband and I did the first thing you described in the post. A slight cheer and off to sleep. Ha! I love the photo of the fish. I would imagine it was pretty close to that. This sausage sounds amazing!

  • oceanbeat said...

    These lentils looks so delicious...this dish has to be spanish influenced as we do it too (Colombians) with longaniza.

    Soo Yummy. BTW I love you blog.


  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Happy New Year, everyone!

    5 Star - A fun time was had by all! We usually have such a low-key (okay, boring) NYE that it seemed almost like sensory overload this time. 8-)

    Kat - It's even more fun to be smack-dab in the middle of it! 8-D

    doggybloggy - I am sure of it! It will be great to follow along with everyone's adventures in 2011. 8-)

    Zerrin - Yes, throwing of the coins is fun, despite all the craziness surrounding it. Thank you and also wishing all the best for you and your family this year! 8-)

    Momgateway - So sorry for replying to your question so late!

    Lisa - I didn't know about that part either; most history begins with the invention of gunpowder. 8-) It was a great party; thank goodness I recovered in time to make our 'prosperity' meal. 8-D

    Midge - I can't imagine anywhere else in the world where the holidays are celebrated with such exuberance! As for longganisa, I have heard so much about Vigan-style - it's the next one I'm going to try. 8-)

    Anh - Thank you so much! As for this dish, I wouldn't mind have such a 'lucky' meal throughout the year. 8-D

    Spud - Though I didn't catch any of the coins, I hope that I still caught some good luck that evening! As for coin-like food, I recall some perfectly round roasties that would do very well...! 8-)

    Jay-R - Thank you! I hope that you'll have an opportunity to celebrate the holidays back here again!

    Steph - I don't do that too often, but what better time to let loose! It was well worth it...!! 8-D

    Jenni - We didn't get to meet up in Raleigh, so I guess that means you'll just have to haul your Pastry-self to the Philippines and I'll happily chuck hard currency at your noggin. 8-P

    Lori - You've already started the year off with some awesome recipes and stories - I need to catch up! I had to use the fish photo: it was too crazy to take an actual photo. Everything came out as just a blur... 8-D

    So Very Domestic - You'd better believe it! I may be Filipina, but after so many years away from here, I have some party re-learning ahead of me. This was a fun start! 8-)

    Oceanbeat - Thank you so much! No other country in Asia shares such a close culinary relationship with Latin/South America as the Philippines, which is why I love to read about and try Colombian/Brazilian/Peruvian/Mexican, etc. recipes! I look forward to reading about Colombian dishes on your blog. 8-)

    Rebecca - Thank you so much! Wishing you and your family a marvelous new year, too!

    Veron - Although we just moved to Manila, this is the third Christmas/second New Year's Eve in a row that we've celebrated here. I hope that you'll get in touch when you come for a visit - I'd love to meet up! Happy New Year! 8-)

  • ChichaJo said...

    Ah New Years in the Philippines! We missed the big parties this year as we were all down with the flu :( Wouldn't have minded some of this delicious looking longanisa and lentils to bolster us up though! :)

    I miss oliebollen!

    Happy 2011! :)

  • SKIP TO MALOU said...

    New Year's Eve in the Philippines is something you either love or love to hate haha. There's too much noise and the air is so thick with smoke... we ran to Tagaytay or to our hometown during NYE to escape Manila's revelry. ahhh but being away from home, and reading your post make me miss it. It's been awhile.
    Happy New Year Tracey. I know you're still adjusting to your new life in Manila... but boy am I so jealous that you are there!

  • Anonymous said...

    Thanks for such a great post, help me learning a different culture celebrating their New Year eve. The sausages look delicious!!

  • LetMeEatCake Eat With Me! said...

    what a delicious meal! my family lives in Quezon city so i'm going to have to see if they too enjoy lucban longganisa. I'm sure the stuff i eat here in LA doesn't compare but gotta have something right! happy new year!

  • Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said...

    A belated happy new year to you and your family! Loved the shot of all those fireworks - gosh I miss fireworks (banned here) but we indulge ourselves everytime we go to Asia, where OH&S rules seem to be in short supply. And love the sound of sliced pigs ears on congee - going to have to try that at home! And yes, I can attest to the fact that 13 is a lucky number in Chinese - at least, our family thinks so. It's as you said sounds like "must survive".

  • BettyAnn @Mango_Queen said...

    How did I miss this post? I remember reading this last year, and yet I forgot to leave a comment? (cue slapping my forehead with palm of hand). Anywho, this is a great read on Filipino New Year's customs which I can always share with friends here in case they ask. My own sister in the Philippines keeps forgetting we're in the dead of winter over here (snow, ice, etc) and never fails to ask on the phone "do you have paputok?" Sigh. That said, I can't believe I have not yet tried your recipe of longaniza with lentils. This is perfect for the cold night here. Must bookmark this. Thanks for sharing a great post, Tracey! BTW, I love your new avatar (2013). Happy 2013!


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