Bicol is land of the coconuts. It is situated along the typhoon belt so coconut trees are planted because they can bend and sway with the strong wind… just like the resilience of their people in difficult times. I can truly say that Bicolano cuisine has its own distinct identity with their heavy use of coconut milk and chili peppers. Food is generally spicier than the other regions. In the Philippines dishes are named after the cooking method. “Ginata” or “ginataang” means to cook in coconut milk. In fact almost all vegetables are cooked in coconut milk.
One very famous vegetable from the region is “gabi” or taro leaves. They are hanged upside to dry before being used. Old folks say it is not wise to stir the dish while cooking or else it will become “makati” or itchy . Non Bicolanos use the term “Laing” loosely to refer to gabi or taro leaves cooked in coconut milk. The locals are very particular about the variations:
Laing - gabi leaves coocked in coconut milk, with shrimp paste or dried fish
Tilmok- gabi leaves cooked in coconut milk with fish meat or crab meat
Pinangat – layered gabi leaves cooked in coconut milk with bangot ( meaning “sahog” or sometimes minced pork).
Other vegetable dishes cooked in coconut milk:
Ginataang santol - santol fruit meat cooked in coconut milk
Purupagulong -Sigarilias sa gata
Ginataang puso ng saging – banana heart cooked in coconut milk
Other famous dishes:
Bicol express - named after the train. Pork cooked in coconut, a little shrimp paste and lots of chili peppers. In my travels I realized that each Bicolano family has their own version of the dish. Some serve it dried with the fat rendered out and others serve it with the creaminess of the coconut milk
Kinonut na Pagi - shredded sting ray meat cooked in coconut milk.
Fresh Alamang – similar to shrimp paste without the saltiness but is very spicy. Often eaten as an accompaniment in their meals. It’s derivative Bicolano homemade patis is also finished off with coconut milk.
There is an abundance is seafood like crabs, tuna, and squid as the provinces are located near the coastal water.
Fish drying is a very common along the sea shores
Sabang port along Camarines Sur boast of their Blue Marlin fishing industry.
Bicol is also known for the Pili Nut which grows only in this region. Culinary applications are similar to pecan or the macadamia nut. Albay has had this industry since the Spanish occupation. Tip for foodies is to look for the “Locsin” brand.
The different pili products
The Pili Nut
Another sweet dish is biniribid – or pinilipit, deep fried rice flour with coconut milk, glazed with brown sugar