Eight Years | Ginataang Bilo-Bilo

They say the number eight is an auspicious number. In Chinese culture, particularly, there is a special affinity to the number eight, not only because it sounds similar to the word meaning prosper or wealth, but also because the digits 88 share a resemblance to the characters depicting double joy or happiness.

I find the number eight meaningful because I was eight years old when my little sister was born. Eight years. A large enough age gap where I loved playing little mommy with my new sibling. Enough time for an older sister to grow up just enough to guide a little sister through life. And time enough for one to truly appreciate the blessing of getting the little sister I always wanted.

I love my sister, she’s my best friend. She loves my children almost as much as I do. Only trouble is, we live a six hour flight apart, and our sisterly bonding time is resigned to yearly visits, phone calls (lots of them), and family weddings. But when we do see each other, it is definitely a joy. Double joy.

What I miss most is Christmas with my sister. I miss sitting around in our comfy clothes, forming little sweet balls of glutinous rice for a dessert that has become our own little holiday tradition.

When my sister came to spend a whole week with us last month, I couldn’t wait to see her, and I knew right away what we must do. We were going to have our own Christmas in February and make Ginataang Bilo-Bilo. Translated quite literally, it means Balls Cooked in Coconut Milk (Gata). This Filipino dessert is like a coconut tapioca pudding, studded with delightfully chewy orbs of glutinous rice dumplings, Saba bananas, and jackfruit. Served warm, the scent of coconut is intoxicating, and the creamy spoonfuls are pure comfort. As soon as I knew my sister was coming, I bought a box of sweet rice flour in anticipation.

I think the weather knew what we were up to. Her arrival was marked by torrential rains and dismally gloomy, cold weather. But it was alright. In our cozy clothes, we were eager to share this dessert with the next generation. My daughter is now eight herself, and we couldn’t wait to teach her how to form the dough into those blobs of chewy delight. Seeing her sit with my sister at the table with handfuls of dough made me so happy, as I stirred the pot of sweetened coconut milk on the stove.

Passing on this tradition to my own little ones was poignant for both my sister and I; watching their reactions to their first sweet spoonfuls brought us true joy. It was the best Christmas present I could ask for.

Ginataang Bilo-Bilo {Filipino Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Glutinous Rice Balls}

Serves 10-12.

For the Bilo-Bilo:

  • 1 1/2 cups sweet glutinous rice flour
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups water

For the Ginataan:

  • 3 13.5-oz cans of coconut milk (gata)
  • 2.5 cups of water (or simply, use 1 1/2 coconut milk cans)
  • 8 oz small pearl tapioca
  • 3 Saba bananas, sliced (if you can’t find Saba bananas, substitute 2 very ripe plantains or 3 medium standard bananas)
  • 1 20-oz can of langka (jackfruit), sliced
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar

Form the Bilo-Bilo by combining the rice flour and water in a small bowl until you have a smooth dough. Form into balls no larger than 1/2 inch in diameter. Set aside.

In a large pot over medium heat, bring the coconut milk and water to a bubbling simmer.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the tapioca, stirring frequently. Drain and set aside.

Add bananas and langka to the simmering coconut milk. Add sugar and sweeten to taste. When the bananas are fork tender, add the tapioca, as well as the bilo-bilo one at a time to prevent sticking. You will know the bilo-bilo is cooked when they float to the top and are chewy to taste.

Serve warm and enjoy!

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by Liren Baker on March 14, 2011

38 Responses to “Eight Years | Ginataang Bilo-Bilo”

  1. carolineadobo — March 14, 2011 @ 12:35 am (#
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    The number 8, sisterhood and traditions, your ginataan bilo-bilo coming full circle with your daughter plus your delicious recipe makes for a lovely post. It’s way past my bedtime but so glad I stayed up a few minutes longer tonight–now I’m off to a sweet slumber.

  2. Tracey@TangledNoodle — March 14, 2011 @ 1:18 am (#
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    My little sister (not so little anymore, of course) was born when I was about 10 years old, so I can definitely relate to your relationship. Your post makes me miss my sisters back in California, though. 8-( I guess I will just have to console myself with a bowl of Ginataang Bilo-Bilo – I looooove this almost as much as I love my sibs. 8-D

    • Liren replied: — March 16th, 2011 @ 11:40 pm

      Tracey, you’re even farther away from your sisters! How hard that must be! But it must be nice to also be closer to the rest of the familia now that you’re in Manila!

  3. Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen — March 14, 2011 @ 2:16 am (#
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    Christmas in February is such a sweet idea, why not, after all the essence of the holidays is spending time with family. It’s so wonderful that you were able to pass on this tradition to your daughter as well.

  4. joey — March 14, 2011 @ 3:08 am (#
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    The bilo-bilo is my favorite part of ginataan! Followed by the tapioca, saba, and langka…your recipe is perfect!!!

    What a lovely tradition you’ve started with your daughter :)

  5. faridawinarni71.co.cc — March 14, 2011 @ 6:49 am (#
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    Great recipe and so yummi

    faridawinarni71.co.cc
    http://rawsfood.com/

  6. Lisa { AuthenticSuburbanGourmet } — March 14, 2011 @ 7:03 am (#
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    Liren – I love tapiocca, so I am sure that I would adore this one. Not too mention the coconut – what a perfect dessert! What a terrific tradition that you have with your daughter – that is very special. Enjoy your week!!!

    • Liren replied: — March 16th, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

      Hope you’re enjoying your week, Lisa! I’ll have to make this for you sometime :)

  7. foodwanderings — March 14, 2011 @ 7:28 am (#
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    Wow Liren, beautiful!! I never cooked anything with tapioca and this looks fantastic. Reminds me I want to post an Indian breakfast dish I grew up on. Thanks girl and the new revamped site ooks phenomenal!

  8. Jun Belen — March 14, 2011 @ 7:42 am (#
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    Eight is my favorite, my lucky number, because I was born on the eighth! And just like your sister, I am eight years younger than my own sister. Lovely photographs, Liren and a lovely recipe. My mom makes this with saba bananas, too. Makes me think about home!

    • Liren replied: — March 16th, 2011 @ 11:43 pm

      Jun, you’re a man of luck! And are you really also eight years apart from your Ate? What an amazing coincidence!

      • Jun Belen replied: — March 17th, 2011 @ 7:41 am

        Yes! I have five sisters and the youngest is eight years older than me. My parents waited eight years before trying again for a boy. And they had me!

  9. Jackie — March 14, 2011 @ 10:41 am (#
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    )

    I have to admit, I am incredibly childish: when I saw the words ‘balls cooked in coconut milk’ I let out a wee snigger. I’m sorry. I can’t help it – too much time spent around boys! :P

    These look beautiful though – if I had a sister I’d be making this with her! Since I don’t I’ll just giggle over the cooked balls with my older brother.

    Jax x

    PS: I love your site redesign, can’t remember if I told you already?

    • Liren replied: — March 16th, 2011 @ 11:43 pm

      LOL, it is sweet young ladies like you, Jackie, that I had to consider as I typed out this post. But then, your brother has already corrupted you! Snigger away, my sister and I do, too. OH, and thank you – glad you like how the site is looking!

  10. Dan (mychef) — March 14, 2011 @ 1:19 pm (#
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    …nice post, the ginataan bilo bilo… cooking it up just like the good old days and now with your little ones… really interesting

  11. Jean — March 14, 2011 @ 4:22 pm (#
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    So happy to hear about your sister’s visit, Liren. I love that you’re passing the tradition of the ginataan to your daughter. I can relate to your sister’s relationship with your kids, too, since I feel the same way about my two sisters’ children. Love, love them!

    When you posted a preview on FB, I wondered if you made ginataan. I’ve never made it myself but I do fondly remember my mom serving it to me and my sisters when we were kids. Fun memories. Glad to read about yours.

  12. Xai — March 14, 2011 @ 4:34 pm (#
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    Such a lovely story and what a wonderful tradition. The photographs are also so beautiful. I miss ginataan. If only someone else other than me would help eat the finished product. Livig with a picky eater is really hard.

  13. fooddreamer — March 14, 2011 @ 4:50 pm (#
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    Your connection with your sister touched me. My sister and I are 6 years apart, and although we didn’t get along that much as kids, we are the best of friends now. But we live on opposite sides of the continent and it’s hard. I love how you are creating these traditions with your sister and passing them on to your daughter. I’d love to try this dessert!

  14. Julie — March 14, 2011 @ 7:23 pm (#
    14
    )

    This has always been one of my favorite Filipino desserts too. So while the pictures and recipe made my mouth water, this beautiful tribute to your sister and the bond you share made my eyes water. Well done!

  15. TheAppleDoesntFallFarFromthePan-Tree — March 14, 2011 @ 7:35 pm (#
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    Your sister is very lucky to have you, your little ones, and your kitchen talent in her life!

  16. Eizel — March 14, 2011 @ 9:28 pm (#
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    Awww… this was a sweet story, thanks for sharing :)

  17. Annie — March 15, 2011 @ 4:28 am (#
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    More number trivia – my chinese colleague just told me today that the ages that end in 3s or 9s are skipped over, so you’re allowed to lie about your age when you turn 43, or 59! She’s been 50 for years! The guinataan looks so delicious, with the sago, langka, and bilo-bilo made by sisters.

    • Liren replied: — March 16th, 2011 @ 11:44 pm

      LOVE this idea of skipping 3′s and 9′s :) I’ll remember that for sure :)

  18. Stephanie @ okie dokie artichokie — March 15, 2011 @ 5:42 am (#
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    What a lovely story. I have a younger sister as well — 9 years my junior, and I recall how thrilled I was when she was born. I spent my days helping my mom take care of her and I have wonderful memories of our childhood together. She lives in CA and I live in MI, so we are apart and miss each others company all the time. Luckily, we get to see each other again in two weeks…in beautiful Cabo!

    • Liren replied: — March 16th, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

      Oh so lucky, you get to see your sister AND in Cabo no less – have FUN!

  19. Lannie — March 15, 2011 @ 1:25 pm (#
    19
    )

    Hi. Stumbled on your blog today and find your food pics so nice :) Yeah, I’m jealous of those angles and lighting as I find my own food pics always lacking in some artsy way. Grrr.

    • Liren replied: — March 16th, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

      Hi Lannie, you’re too sweet! Do not be jealous, you’re doing great – keep taking pictures and enjoy every tasty moment!

  20. Magic of Spice — March 15, 2011 @ 2:16 pm (#
    20
    )

    What a lovely post! This dessert is something I have never tried but it looks and sounds wonderful.

  21. rebecca — March 15, 2011 @ 2:44 pm (#
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    wow looks so tasty and hope J loves her sibling like this :-)

    you need to just wear your saree for fun!

    • Liren replied: — March 16th, 2011 @ 11:46 pm

      You’re right! I should just learn how to wear my sari and just have a party or something :) And yes, your little ones will surely love each other so very much, just you wait!

  22. norma — March 16, 2011 @ 8:22 am (#
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    What a wonderful and touching story. I only wish I had a sister. I was raised with 4 brothers and it was tough.

  23. Amanda L. (Tales from a Kitchen Misfit) — March 16, 2011 @ 4:58 pm (#
    23
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    Beautiful post about you and your sister and the Ginataang Bilo-Bilo looks amazing and delicious!

  24. Orly @yumivore — March 16, 2011 @ 11:44 pm (#
    24
    )

    If I could dip my spoon into my screen I would! Tapioca conjures up childhood memories (though different from Bilo-Bilo). I envision the flavors to be similar to Mango with Sticky Rice? I would LOVE to try this!

    • Liren replied: — March 17th, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

      Hi Orly! YES, the flavors of the coconut tapioca will taste very similar to the sticky rice! You would definitely love this, I’m sure :)

  25. Cooking Rookie — March 17, 2011 @ 4:53 pm (#
    25
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    I am saving this recipe! I just bought some tapioca, and I have rice flour from my failed mochi attempt, and this sounds like a perfect way to try again :-).
    Love your photos, as always ;-)

  26. Joy — March 23, 2011 @ 7:59 pm (#
    26
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    I love love ginataang. This looks wonderful.

  27. Isadora Filipina — November 25, 2011 @ 3:15 pm (#
    27
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    I was looking for a link to ginataang bilo bilo and stumbled upon your site. That’s a really cute story with your sister; I was just blogging about mine last night. Lovely site you have here…

  28. Pingback: Grab The New Year By The Rice Flour Balls!; Ginataang Bilo Bilo | Pig Parts & Beer

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