Um, ‘dinuguan’ for media noche?

'Dinuguan' and all round things.

I wondered aloud while eyeing the rows of food trays laid out at Phil-Am Restaurant & Grocery for families to feast on while waiting for the ball to drop on Times Square.

“It’s for the puto,” chortled owner Gil Aguila, sharing the Filipinos’ belief that round things bring good luck.

I remember how my mother would dress me in polka dots and scatter coins around the house close to midnight. Our media noche table would always have rounded fruits like oranges, chico and apples, and stems of grapes would be flowing out of the fruit bowl. As far as I can remember our luck had never really changed.

Gil, who belongs to the successful entrepreneurial Aguila family from Batangas (Max’s, Phil-Am Woodside, etc.), said FilAms haven’t left the tradition back home.

“They look for round things in food, such as puto, kutsinta, queso de bola,” he told The FilAm.

When we visited, there were trays and trays of round food, including morcon, spring rolls and other dishes not necessarily circular, like pansit bihon and palabok. Phil-Am, who has been in Colonia, New Jersey for 21 years, has sold hundreds of queso de bola and legs of ham during the holidays. There is another location in New Brunswick, which is six years old.

Gil Aguila surveys his food trays.

A Filipino landmark in Central Jersey

The palitaw, according to Gil, is also popular for good luck.

“Because when it’s done, it floats to the top, and some believe that brings good luck too,” he explained. “I don’t know these things, they (customers) just tell me, and that’s what they want to have and that’s what we prepare.”

Fish is another food of fortune, he said. In Chinese tradition – which Filipinos have learned to internalize — fish is known to ward off bad luck; it is also the symbol of wealth.

Filipino families place big orders of food for the Christmas noche buena, when they host big parties with relatives and friends, said Gil. By contrast, the New Year media noche is a “more intimate” just-for-family affair.

It’s a mesmerizing sight, seeing rows and rows of food trays waiting to be picked up. Many of them were ordered days ahead; the rest are for walk-in families who may not have the time to cook a traditional Filipino feast. With seven cooks taking turns to prepare the food we shall be partaking at midnight, let us give thanks to them who will make sure we have a little bit of Filipino in our American homes tonight. – Cristina DC Pastor

One Comment

  1. Simone wrote:

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