Filipino recipes and Filipino dishes in general aren’t that known for its use of spices or for being hot spicey dishes unlike its neighboring Southeast Asian countries. It’s really down to individual tastes in Filipinos if they love spicy foods or not. There are only certain regions in the Philippines that truly embraces spice and chillis in its local cuisine like regions with a majority Muslim population.
But the most well-known local cuisine for its spiciness throughout the country came from the Bicol region where some of the hottest chillies in the country are grown. This abundance of spicy ingredients made the region’s cuisine have a distinctive spicy quality.
Probably the most Bicol recipe all over the country is Bicol Express, a pork dish simmered in coconut milk, coconut cream, shrimp paste, and of course, chillis known for its sour and spicy flavor with a creamy consistency. The flavor and texture of the dish is absolutely delicious, if you can stand the heat of course. Many recommend eating it with plenty of rice to combat the spice.
Bicol express also have an interesting origin. They say that the dish was commonly served to weary travelers in cariderias located beside railroad stations going through Bicol. It was almost customary to eat this dish when traveling through Bicol by train that the name Bicol Express became well-known. And because the train travelers came from different parts of the Philippines, the dish quickly became popular outside of Bicol.
I don’t know if they’re still serving Bicol Express in carinderias beside railroads today in Bicol but the dish has become so popular all over the country that we can occasionally see it served in carinderias in cities and towns outside of Bicol. Is it as good as the Bicol Express made by the Bicolanos? It’s tasty with a right amount of spice but nothing can probably beat an authentic Bicolano made Bicol Express.
Honestly, I couldn’t take the heat the first time I tried this dish at a local carinderia during college. I had to scoop up spoonfuls of rice for one bite of the dish to fight of the spice. But over the years, I think my palate got used to it and I can actually eat it regularly now, as long as I have a glass of really cold iced tea with me during the meal.
I was really inspired of creating my own recipe of Bicol Express when I visited Bicol for the first time. I got to view the Mayon volcano in person and got to taste authentic Bicol Express for the first time at a random carinderia in the city of Albay. It was hotter than I was used to and I thought I won’t be able to finish everything but I persevered with lots of rice and really cold iced tea.
The owner of the carinderia said that we can find Bicol Express served just about anywhere there and everyone has their version of the spicy dish. She told me the basics of her recipe but doesn’t really want to reveal all of her secrets which was fine and I’m really thankful for.
I’ve always known the basics on how to cook this spicy dish from recipes outside of Bicol but now that I’ve got a taste of the real thing, I did some quick alterations of the recipe I wanted to post here. My version of Bicol Express is not as spicy as those found in Bicol, because I honestly can’t stand that level of spice.
I was so excited about doing this recipe for the site that I made a video of the whole thing which you can watch below if you’re a more visual learner.
Basically, for the ingredients for this recipe, we’re gonna use 1kg of pork belly that’s cut into cubes, 1 cup of finger chilies or siling haba that are all sliced, 4 cloves of garlic that are also sliced, 1 onion also sliced, 4 pieces of chopped chili peppers, 1 cup of string beans that are cut into 2-inch pieces, 1 tablespoon of sliced ginger, 2 tablespoons of shrimp paste or alamang, 1 ½ cups of coconut milk, 1 cup of coconut cream, 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of cooking oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
If all of the ingredients are ready and prepared, the cooking process is fairly easy to follow. In a preheated pan, heat up the cooking oil and toss in the garlic, ginger, and onion. Sautee these ingredients until you can smell their mouthwatering fragrance.
Next is to add the pork in the pan and stir it occasionally until the meat turned a light brown. Then add the shrimp paste and keep stirring the ingredients in the pan while cooking for two minutes.
Now it’s time to add the coconut milk, the cup of water, and red chili peppers. We need to let the ingredients in the pan simmer for about 30 minutes at this point or until the pork is tender. Once that’s done, add the coconut cream and let it simmer again until the liquid has thickened.
Then it’s time to add the string beans and finger chilies. Stir everything regularly while letting it cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir well all the while.
We’re done! Remove the pan from the heat and transfer its contents in a serving bowl. I love the colors that the finger chilies, string beans, and the red chili peppers brought into the dish. Serve the Bicol Express hot with plenty of fluffy white rice and enjoy!
Bicol Express Recipe
- 1 kg pork belly cut into cubes
- 1 cup finger chilies siling haba, sliced
- 1 cup string beans cut into 2-inch pcs
- 4 cloves garlic sliced
- 1 pc onion sliced
- 4 pcs red chili peppers chopped
- 1 tbsp ginger sliced
- 2 tbsp shrimp paste alamang
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
- 1 cup coconut cream kakang gata
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- In a preheated pan, heat cooking oil.
- Add garlic, ginger, and onion. Sauté until fragrant.
- Add pork. Cook while stirring occasionally until light brown.
- Add shrimp paste. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk, water, and red chili peppers. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until pork is tender.
- Add the coconut cream and simmer until the liquid thickens.
- Add string beans and finger chilies. Cook while stirring regularly for about 2 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper. Stir well.
- Remove from heat. Transfer to a serving bowl.
- Serve while hot with steamed rice. Enjoy your Bicol Express!