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Love in the Land of Gata and Sili

Posted Sep 13 2008 11:43pm

photo from flickr

It's true. I admit it. I am no longer going to fight the urge to tell the world at large that I am utterly, absolutely, head-over-heels in love...

... with Bicol food.

I don't know if you've noticed how I've avoided blogging about food all these months. This, of course, does not signify my indifference to food... quite the opposite, in fact! I absolutely love food, of almost any kind (as long as no creepy-crawlies or weird animals are part of the menu). Which is why I don't trust myself to make reliable reviews, hoity-toity or otherwise - to me, it's all good.

I'm making an exception in this case and devoting an entire post to Bicol food because I am, obviously, completely taken in by the cuisine. What's not to love?

Fresh coconut milk - check! Chili peppers in abundant quantity - check! Fresh vegetables - check! Super fresh fish, shrimp, crab, and other varieties of seafood - check, check, check, CHECK! I could rest my case right there, but I will go on and show you guys how huge a gourmand I can be.

I fell in love with it when my friends and I stayed in Daet a few months ago, and I had my first sample of the true Bicolandia home cooking. Some people may argue that my memories of that first encounter have been swayed by the enormous quantities of food rather than its quality, but that is so not true.

Before then, I only had a vague acquaintance with Bicol express and laing. But after days of living on the day's freshest catch made even more yum-yum appetizing by this concoction called "sinantol" - a mix of shrimp and santol rind cooked soft in coconut milk - I became a convert and am now wondering why there aren't any restaurants in Manila carrying this great stuff. It's awesome with shrimp, fish, crab... what am I saying, it's just plain awesome!

When we went back to Bicol a few weeks ago, there wasn't enough time to prepare "sinantol" for us - apparently it takes time for the rind to soften. As a substitute, we were served "iba" - kamias fruit cooked in shrimp and coconut milk - that's similar to the "sinantol" and just as heavenly with the feast of seafood they served it with.

Then there was this dish called "pinangat" which is made of taro leaves wrapped around this mushy stuff (such sophisticated culinary lingo, girl!) with some chopped shrimp and I don't know what else, all awash in coconut milk and chili. Amazing stuff.

picture byverenitagreen

A caveat for those who are trying to cut their carbs - Bicol food is really made to be eaten with rice. Lots and lots of it. It was at Daet that my fellow food-worshiper friends and I named identified "The Kanin-Ulam Conundrum." It is that very Pinoy phenomenon of not quite being able to stop filling your plate until the amount of viand on it is just enough for the amount of rice on it to make the last spoonful. Quite often though, it's usually that stopping point when you can't really eat anything more.

Since I've already mentioned laing, I can't very well end my post without extolling the virtues of Camsur Watersports Center's amazing Bicol Special Pizza. Topped with cheese, laing, and shrimp cooked in coconut milk, I fell in love with this 8-inch wonder just as quickly as I stumbled into love of all things Bicol. While certain friends of mine (particularly the native Bicolana) insist that Laing is best eaten with rice, my other Manila friends and I (not knowing any better) swear by the pizza being an adequate substitute.

I could go on and on about it, but Bicol food is best experience to be believed. So if anyone can let me know the name of any restaurant that serves this awesome cuisine in Manila, I'll be eternally grateful. Otherwise, I'm going to have to wait for our next trip back - which, given my current infatuation with the wonderful region itself - will be hopefully very soon.

(Okay, now it's pretty obvious why I don't do food posts. :))


Post-script: I know people are wondering what happened to that Caramoan trip I was telling you guys about... well, we made it, and we had a wonderful time. And... no rain until the last day. I'm going to work on writing about that particular trip soon, so watch out for it. In the meantime, I suggest you guys start planning your trips while it's still an undiscovered paradise! :)

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