All of my previous posts about my home province, Bicol, have been about the many beautiful places to see and visit in the area. There’s the Mayon Volcano and the Cagsawa Park, the Albay Wildlife Park and Lignon Hill, and the Subic Beach and Paguriran Island in Sorsogon. These are only but a few of the many magnificent places to visit in the province—I will be writing a lot more soon.
If you want to truly understand the local Bicol culture, however, you will also need to try its local food. And, there are many Bicol delicacies that will truly be a treat to your palate, all of whom speak of the quality of the Bicolanos one way or another.
Check out my list of must-try Bicol food:
Perhaps the most known Bicol specialty, pilinut comes in many forms, the most common of which is the pilinut candy—pili coated in sugar or kalamay. You will also find pili tart, mazapan de pili, and other food souvenir made out of this special kind of nut.
In my grandparents’ home, we have a pili tree that, even now, still bears a whole bunch of pilinuts during the pili season. The fruit is oval in shape, green when it’s young and then turns a dark purple color once it’s ready to harvest.
The main pilinut actually comes in two layers of covering. The first layer, its purple covering, can actually be eaten. You have to boil the fruit, and then the covering will peel off. It’s fibrous in texture and can be eaten with vinegar or salt. When you peel off this outer layer, you will find the hard shell that encases the nut. The shell is oval in shape, sharp on both ends, and it has to be cracked in order to get to the nut inside. Once cracked, you will see the nut coated with a layer of brown covering that you will need to remove to enjoy the pili inside.
Much like the pili, Bicolanos are hard outside—resilient and strong. Bicol is a typhoon path in the Philippines, and we are ‘visited’ by typhoons several times a year. We have learned to adapt each time, to rise again and rebuild after a fall. But, deep inside, much like the pilinut, Bicolanos are warm and friendly people.
Pinangat and Laing
Bicolanos are fond of gata (coconut milk) and of using them in cooking. We use it in everything—we use it in cooking vegetables, fish, and even meat. We also use it in cooking sticky rice or suman.
Both pinangat and laing are made out of gabi (taro) leaves, cooked in coconut milk. The difference is in the way these are cooked. Laing is cooked like a regular vegetable dish, with either fish or meat. Meanwhile, pinangat is cooked by combining strips of gabi leaves with meat or fish or bagoong and seasonings, wrapping all of them together using a few layers of whole gabi leaves, and then tying the wrapped leaves and cooking them in coconut milk. The result is a creamy dish with just the right of spiciness, depending on your preference.
Much like the pinangat, Bicolanos may initially appear like an acquired taste—a bit complex, even fastidious. And why not, we even call ourselves ‘uragon’ (daring, or gutsy)… We are proud people. But much like the pinangat, once you get to know us and discover our soft side, you will find us to be loving and caring people.
Imagine eating a vegetable dish made entirely out of sili (pepper), with bagoong, meat or fish, and cooked in coconut milk. This is the extreme Bicol Express that I know—and some Bicolanos really do cook this version of the dish. The larger sili is used, red or green, sliced, and then combined with the other ingredients above to create a smoking hot dish. The other, more common versions, use vegetables such as sigarilyas (winged bean) as the main ingredient and then add siling labuyo (chili pepper) for a really spicy kick.
Bicol Express is not for everyone, much like the pinangat—I, myself, am not very fond of it since I’m not really into spicy dishes. However, you can also find this dish in slightly spicy varieties nowadays. And much like coconut milk, chili is a favorite ingredient in many Bicolano dishes. In fact, our very own ‘Sili King’ Bert Gonzales is recognized in Guinness Book of World Record as the fastest chili eater—about to eat 350 pieces of sili in just 3 minutes.
Just like the pili and other local Bicol food, Bicol Express, and sili in general, is a testament to the Bicolanos’ bravery and tough character. We step up to challenges and face them with courage.
If you find yourself in Bicol one of these days, don’t forget to try the food mentioned above. You can find them almost everywhere—the pilinut candy is offered in almost all souvenir stores, the pinangat/laing is available frozen in LCC (Albay), in Camalig (its origin), and in several restaurants, much like the Bicol Express that is also offered in various restaurants in the province. Just ask around.
You’ll get to know the true Bicolano spirit through our special delicacies. And if you’re looking for more, check the list below for other food items to try:
Ibos/Ibus. This is our version of sticky rice, cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in young coconut leaves.
Sili Ice Cream. For a unique dessert, this is something to try. You can find this in First Colonial Grill in Legazpi, Albay
Inulukan/Tilmok. This is almost similar to Pinangat, except what’s wrapped inside is coconut meat with crab meat or shrimp.
Pancit Bato. Our very own pancit cooked in soy sauce. The pancit (noodles) used is different, smaller in size. The cooking is also different in that it is not dry.
Tinutungang Manok. This is chicken cooked in coconut milk and vegetables, usually papaya, but the coconut milk is burnt a little (this is done by placing a glowing coal in the middle of the strips of coconut meat before the milk from the meat is squeezed out).
Happy eating! 🙂