What is Hot and Spicy in Bicol?

Looking for something hotter than hot springs and volcanoes? Well, save that for other trips. But “hot” that tickles the appetite—one that’s spicy, creamy, a delight to the bone, and doesn’t add calories to the belly, something hotter than ordinary chili—that’s what they have in Bicolandia.

Say the magic word is “Bicol!” and it conjures pictures of platefuls of steaming hot Bicol Express–the premier Bicol food. This is a chili-flavored favorite in the country, a dish of pork ribs and siling haba or long chili, cooked in coconut thick cream–yummy Bicol cuisine.

Here’s the “secret” recipe. One part of long chili to two parts of coco thick cream—that’s the secret proportion that sends Manilans and many others scouring the region for it. Or, one kilo of long, native chili (especially the Bicol variety) to two kilos of the coco cream then mix in the pre-fried or boiled pork ribs and it sure makes for a very hot but equally tasty food.

Bicol is coconut country. It supplies the country (and the world) with coconut oil. Its natives are also famous for going crazy over native, super hot chili—munching them raw as a local past-time. Thus, it is known for its coconut- and chili-based cuisine.

The native long chili (about an inch long, some shorter, and the shorter the hotter) are so important to every household—when a typhoon strikes, Bicolanos are said to prioritize the safety of their chili plant over their houses.

The native chili has become symbolic of the fierce courage of the natives in times of calamities and war. They always bounce back after each vicissitude in life.

Aside from the fiery Bicol Express (named after the clunky train that used to run from Manila to Bicol), the laing is another hot favorite. Chunks of pork and shrimp are cooked with dried gabi or taro leaves, again with sliced long chili. All this in a thick coco cream.

There’s a so-called Camarines Sur Hotel and Restaurant Association that makes sure Bicol hot delicacies are well promoted in member-restaurants in Naga City. This way, the tradition of Bicol chili recipes stays on with all the superb qualities intact.

Bicol is well traversed by tropical typhoons the year round. Typhoons after typhoons the fiery courage and resilience of a kind but tough people are evident. And one easily find out why—after a well-appreciated Bicol meal, it becomes plain why Bicolanos hang on out there despite the odds. 

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