What’s The Difference: Puto Vs. Bibingka

These are two different rice cakes.

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ILLUSTRATOR Roselle Miranda

Rice cakes or kakanin are traditional Filipino desserts. Before wheat flour, we had rice flour and this was commonly made either dry or wet or galapong

Two favorite rice cake dishes made from galapong have to be the puto and the bibingka

Both are traditionally made with rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, and eggs. Melted butter or margarine can be added or extra richness and flavor to the rice cakes but in essence, this is not necessary to the basic recipe. To give lift, the modern recipes of these cakes use baking powder, a chemical leavener that reacts to the heat to make the cakes rise. Both are also commonly served with niyog or fresh grated coconut.  

There are many ways puto and bibingka are similar but these are two different kinds of rice cakes. Here's how these two are different: 

Photo by Mira Angeles
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1 Puto is steamed. Bibingka is baked.   

The most obvious difference is how these two rice cakes are cooked. Puto is steamed while bibingka is baked. If you want to go technical, the traditional bibingka is "baked" between two charcoal stoves with banana leaves on top and bottom to prevent it from both sticking as well as adding its charred banana flavor to the cake.  

Puto is sometimes topped with cheese but bibingka is always topped with salted eggs. 

The puto is commonly topped with cheese but this is a popular version and not the norm. The puto or the rice cake itself is usually sweet but that doesn't mean it's always served as a dessert. This is the taste contrast that makes the putong bigas so delicious when paired with dinuguan while its spongy texture is perfect for soaking up the sauce.

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Bibingka meanwhile is almost always sweet since it's almost always served with its savory topping: itlog na maalat or salted egg. It might also contain chunks or slices of kesong puti or fresh cabarao cheese. When baked and ready to serve, it's brushed with butter or margarine and served with niyog on the side. 

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Puto can be made without eggs. 

The most basic puto recipe can actually be made without eggs. The leavening agent can be fermented rice or baking powder. This produces a white-colored puto, also known as putong bigas. This white puto can be dyed in different colors to make the rainbow flavored puto we find at pasalubong stores and fiestas. 

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5 Puto is served all year. Bibingka is usually reserved for the holidays. 

Puto has no special time of the year to serve it. It's a common enough rice cake that's served for special occasions all year long. Bibingka meanwhile is exclusively tied to the Christmas season. This is the time when the streets are lined with not just bibingka but also another holiday favorite, the puto bumbong

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