One of the best things about a Filipino Christmas is the noche buena tradition, an opportunity for the whole family to gorge on delicious food on the midnight of Dec. 25. Local dishes are commonly served during the feast, but some families (like mine) make sure that one dish takes pride of place on the table — and that’s ham.
I love munching on ham during the holidays, but have always wondered if there are better ones out there — and that’s why, this year, I set out to check four brands that are being sold in groceries in the metro, and pit them against each other.
I’m a major pork eater so I thoroughly enjoyed tasting these meats, which I paired with the local bread pan de sal or just ate them by itself. If you’re wondering why they appear shiny, they were deep-fried for this taste test — which is how most Pinoys serve hams.
Read on to know which brands are good and which ones are just so-so.
Virginia pear-shaped ham (500 grams, PHP 169/US$3.22)
This one was the first I tasted and I wasn’t disappointed. It had the right combo of sweet and salty — at least for me. If I were to put a percentage on it, it’s probably 60 percent sweet and 40 percent salty and I think that’s fine. It’s tasty enough that I didn’t need to put some sauce in it. Texture-wise, it’s kinda rubbery, but it’s ok.
Actually, in many ways, it reminds me a lot of Spam, which is not bad because I love eating that for breakfast. So if you were to try this ham, I suggest you eat it for an early morning meal. You can pair it with bread as I did, but I have a feeling it would taste well with fried rice.
I’m not sure if it’s the kind of ham you’d like to serve for noche buena, however — it’s dry and you might want to look for something juicier, like the next brand…
Rating: 3.5 out of five stars
Purefoods Noche Buena Brick Ham (500 grams, PHP149/US$2.84)
My dad complained that he had a hard time slicing three strips off this chunk of meat when he cooked it so I managed my expectations when I tried this one. But, I was pleasantly surprised that the meat was juicy without being oily. After it was fried, the texture became tender and it was easy to slice them into pieces using a fork.
I liked its mildly sweet taste that was perfect with the bland pan de sal that I paired it with. Is it good enough to be served for Christmas? Yes, but some people might find that it needed more salt and pepper, or perhaps Purefoods should create a sauce specifically for it for some added flavors. Generally, however, I don’t think it’s bad.
Rating: 3.5 of out five stars.
King Sue Pear-Shaped Ham (700 grams, PHP190/US$3.62)
This was the most disappointing of all the hams I tried for this taste test. Compared to the first ham I tried, this one is really more similar to luncheon meat because of its texture. And it’s not even Spam that it reminds me of — it’s a lot like Ma Ling, that cheap Chinese brand that you could eat at hawker centers in Singapore.
It’s also flavorless, so I had to put some Mang Tomas gravy on my bread to make sure that it would taste sweeter and spicier. The only thing that I liked about this ham is that it comes with a free plastic plate — not a big deal, I know but hey, freebies are freebies!
There’s also the fact that it’s bigger than the other hams I tried, but otherwise, I’d rather not eat this. In fact, of all four hams I tried, it’s the one that remains sitting inside our fridge.
Rating: one out of five stars.
CDO American ham (500 grams/PHP145/US$2.77)
This is so good! If I were to buy just one ham for noche buena, this is it. It was so good I ate three pieces in a matter of minutes — no kidding! And the good thing is that it’s not expensive, either.
It comes with a really sweet flavor. It’s juicy and I actually saw some sauce dripping all over the plate where I ate it from. Yes, the sauce is a bit oily, but who cares? That’s what gave it flavor.
The texture is also soft, which made it easy to chew. It was perfect with my pan de sal but it was good enough to be eaten on its own. And when I had some bread left over, I drizzled some of the ham’s sauce on top of it and ate it. Yum!
It’s the kind of ham that children will love, so if you’re looking for a good ham within your budget, this one is worth considering. But if you’re older, I have to warn you — it’s so oily that your cholesterol level might spike up a notch or two.
Rating: five out of five!