SIRAM: Bicol Express to the next level

The Filipino cuisine is very rich and can be considered at par with the best that other countries can offer. Topping the list is our famous stew made of sliced pork wallowed in creamy coconut milk, and seasoned with shrimp paste and spicy chili peppers—Bicol Express.

Bicol Express is widely known not only in the region but across the Philippine archipelago. But there is no doubt that Bikolanos take pride in the said dish which eventually transcends into a variety of Bicol Express versions like the Bicol Express with pineapple in Camarines Norte, which integrates sweet and sour flavors, and Bicol Express with pili pulp in Sorsogon.

The sense of identity that Bicol Express inculcates in the locals is a significant boost not just in the culinary circuit but also in the tourism industry.

Fusion of Bicol Express

Local chefs elevate the fiery stew to create a sophisticated and world-class dish that is not only wonderfully coupled with staple steamed rice but also with an original creamy sauce recipe.

Chef Andres ‘Andhei’ Nacion, executive chef at the Proxy Hotel by the Oriental in Legazpi City who has been with the hotel for twelve years, claimed that he realized his true passion when he worked as a steward in a fast-food chain.

There is no way to go out without the original Bicol Express recipe. Chef Andhei initially prepared a well-balanced classic dish with ample amounts of meat and hot chili peppers, and the shrimp paste cooked on medium heat. The aroma is quite devouring. 

After that, Chef Andhei made second the Bicol Express Risotto, his own recipe, a thick creamy porridge-like cooked in concocted coconut milk fused with the original Bicol Express dish as the main ingredient.

Who would’ve thought that the dish appealing for a cold day feast would transform into a whole different Italian food? 

Chef Andhei says they purchase their ingredients locally in order to support the farmers amid the nation’s rising inflation rate.

“Siyempre, ang tataas ng mga bilihin yon na gulay so we come up na dito muna sa local na mga suppliers saka kami nag-co-come up ng bagong menu…[para] makatulong na rin sa mga farmers natin,” he said.

Bicol Express with a twist

Chef Ian John Malong, 37, a pastry chef in Oriental hotel, thought of an innovative way to incorporate Bicol Express in pastries. 

The Bicolano Wellington with creamy pumpkin sauce is a baked or turnover pastry made of flour crust and stuffed with chilly Bicol Express then doused in a sauce.  

The empanada-like dough texture possesses the gratifying crispiness and mouth-watering meaty filling as it intensifies the flavor when paired with the thick creamy pumpkin sauce. A perfect combo as it balances the spiciness of Bicol Express and the sweetness of dough.

 “Bicolano Wellington which is pwede nating iconsider na starting point siya na maintroduce yong bicolano food which is spicy na part ng pastry, i-incorporate po natin siya sa mga bread,” Chef Ian said

Chef Ian through his recipe says, they are able to introduce the diverse flavors of Bicol cuisine outside the region as more than just spicy and coconut-based.

“Very versatile iyong Bicol food na pwede natin siyang ipasok even dun sa dessert, even dun sa appetizer para matanggal sa pag-iisip nila na maanghang lang yong bicol food.” 

Fortunately, the foreign-sounding and expensive-looking dish usually served in a high-end restaurant is more localized and less costly than everyone would think as the ingredients are available in local stores.

Meanwhile, Chef Ian hopes to reintroduce the Bicol pastries in the scene of myriad generations.

“Sana makatulong tayo na maibalik or maireintroduce kung ano ang bicol food,yong local food natin. Para matulungan din natin ang mga local farmers,” he said.

“Napakaganda pong i-introduce ng Bicol express kasi kumbaga sa may pinakamalakas po na potential na makilala sa buong mundo is Bicol Express.” 

The culinary tourism project of the Department of Tourism (DOT) V, ‘SIRAM: Flavorful foods of Bicol’, launched in February offers a more in-depth and authentic outlook of different regional delicacies including Bicol Express.

“Ang purpose ta digdi is mapahiling ta lang, showcase lang kung anong igwa kita kasi boost na siyang maray,”(Our purpose here is to showcase what we have in Bicol) Mark Esplana, the project head of SIRAM, said in an interview with Bicol.PH. I via Nicole Frilles, God Frey Las Piñas

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