The Bicol region is made up of six provinces, and if there’s something they have in common, it’s a shared fervor for chilies and the use of coconut in their cuisine. As the coconut is one of the region’s top crops, everything from its juice to its meat is used in Bicolano cooking.
For this Bicolano boodle fight, chef Roel Legson of the Misibis Bay Resort in Albay — which is managed by Enderun Hospitality Management — worked closely with chef Gabriel Ong of Enderun College. “Bicolanos are very passionate about their chilies,” says Gabriel. “Because of the air and soil condition, chilies here are very fruity. Cooking with them brings not just heat but also flavor to a dish. The flavor also cuts through the coconut cream that is often used.”
The elements of a Bicolano boodle
Rice is wrapped in banana leaves along with fresh kamias (bilimbi) and tambakol (yellow fin tuna) and steamed. “A lot of dishes from Bicol are steamed, stewed and boiled,” says Gabriel. “This could be because traditional kitchens were very simple, and most cooking happened over open fires.”
From coconut country comes a chicken soup traditionally made with coconut juice. “Bicolanos prefer to use a native chicken for this dish as it’s packed with more flavor,” says Gabriel.
No Bicolano feast would be complete without the spicy kick of laing, a dish made with dried taro leaves, chili, coconut cream and shrimp. “The leaves are torn by hand, which gives laing its trademark texture,” says Gabriel. “The coconut cream is cooked all the way down until it becomes oily and not creamy.”
Dinuguan at puto
The Bicolano version of dinuguan (pork blood stew) uses less blood and more coconut oil. It is served with puto, or a fermented rice cake.
Gabriel kicks things up a notch with this fiery dish that’s named after the passenger train service from Bicol to Manila — Bicol Express. Made with pork, coconut milk, shrimp paste, and, last but not least, chili peppers, the dish was actually invented in Manila, and is said to have been an innovation on a traditional Bicolano dish called Gulay na may Lada, a similarly spicy vegetable dish cooked in chili and coconut cream.
This story first appeared in the October 2017 issue of Smile magazine.