Bicol Express

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Bicol is known for its volcano Mt. Mayon which has an almost perfect cone shape. Because of this, Bicol, has been one of the great tourist spots in the country, helping to promote the culture of the Philippines, especially the Bicol Region. Everyone wants to take a peek at Mayon Volcano. But that's not the only reason why Bicol is famous. It is also famous for its Bicol Express.


Cely Kalaw, a native of Laguna and an owner of a restaurant located in Malate, Manila, is believed to have been the woman behind this spicy and appetizing dish. She went to Naga when she was three years old and was exposed to the palatable dishes of Bicol. When she grew up and returned to Manila, she created Bicol Express. She named the dish after the train that travels from Paco Station to Bicol.

Bicolanos also claim that it was derived from an original native recipe of Bicol, Gulay na Lada, which is cooked the same way as Bicol Express but originally had no meat.

According to some historians, there are traces of Indonesian traders who came to the region about two thousand years ago, and Bicol Express might have been one of the influences that the people of Indonesia left to the natives. Indeed it is quite similar to some Indonesian dishes.

No matter where it originated, there is no doubt this dish is famous for its taste. In some cases it has evolved to have more meat and less chili, to suit people who don't have high tolerance for spicy dishes. Bicol Express can now be found everywhere in the Philippines being cooked by anyone who appreciates this mouthwatering spicy dish.


Servings: 6-8 persons

  • 1 kilo pork liempo (pork belly), sliced into strips about 1 inch thick
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 pcs onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced ginger
  • 6 cups coconut cream
  • 1 cup green finger chilis (seeds removed), cut horizontally into strips
  • 1/3 cup red chilis
  • 2 Tbsps. turmeric
  • 1/2 cup bagoong alamang (shrimp paste)
  • Cooking oil

How to prepare

In a pan, heat a small amount of cooking oil. Saute garlic until fragrant and add onions. Cook until onions are tender. Add shrimp paste and continue cooking for about 5 minutes. Turning the stove to high heat, add meat and cook for another 10 minutes or until the meat releases its natural oil. Put in the ginger and cook for few seconds. Add in the coconut cream and chilis. Cook for another 15-20 minutes or until the sauce has been reduced and thickened.

Serve with steamed rice.

  • Amount of chilis may be adjusted depending on your tolerance for spicy dishes. However, chilis are said to help in clearing the nasal passages.
  • Shrimp paste may be omitted since it can cause allergic reactions in some people. For saltiness, you may add fish sauce while cooking the meat (before adding coconut cream) or you may use salt as an alternative.



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