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Let Bicol’s Cuisine Take You on a Gastronomical Adventure

by Vero Zamesa

Home to sweet pili nuts, coconut milk-infused dishes, and kickass hot chili peppers mixed into out-of-this-world concoctions, Bicol should be on top of any foodie wanderlust’s list.

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Not only does a Bicolano dish boast amazing flavors, the province offers some food for the soul, too. Just think about looking at the glorious Mount Mayon and relishing the wonders of the Philippines. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

That’s not all there is to love about this gem of a province, as there are many other sights to see and activities to do here. If you're a nature lover, you'll enjoy a trip to the Quitinday Hills and Nature Park. Spend a few hours during your stay at the famous “Pili Nut Hills of Albay”. For history junkies, the Cagsawa Ruins is a definite must-see. And for self-confessed water babies, a boat ride to the secluded island of Calaguas will give you all the peace and tranquility you need.

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But most people would agree that the best way to learn about a place’s history and culture is through its food. With the scrumptious dishes Bicol has to offer, there’s no more perfect way to appreciate the region other than by taking a bite out of it. Foodies and newbies, here’s a guide on how you can eat your way through Bicol.

BICOL’S SIGNATURE DISHES

Here are Bicol’s top 5 well-loved dishes—and where you can get the best versions of them.

1. Crispy Bicol Express from Balay Cena Una

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You can't go to Bicol and not try some authentic Bicol Express. The dish embodies the kind of cooking Bicolanos are known for: creamy, flavorful, and has just the right amount of spice to give it a kick. It creates such a perfect harmony with plain white rice, the flavors playing off of one another to make for one unforgettable meal.

Bicol Express is a stew made of siling mahaba, pork, coconut milk, shrimp paste, onions, and garlic. Sounds enticing enough? If you’re looking for a real winner, Balay Cena Una’s Crispy Bicol Express (₱235) may be just what your taste buds are looking for.

Slices of crispy fried pork resting on a bed of perfectly spiced coconut milk and chopped green sili make up this awesome Balay Cena Una fave. While you’re at it, try their Lumpiang Tinapa (₱130) for the perfect meal.

Balay Cena Una
4501 Daraga - Legazpi City, Tiwi Road
Legazpi City, Albay
(0917) 827 9520
Open from Mondays to Saturdays, 11 AM - 9 PM;
Sundays at 11 AM - 2:30 PM

2. Kinalas from Aling Cely’s Kinalasan

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If you're a big fan of noodle soups, Kinalas is a homegrown recipe you shouldn't miss when you’re in Bicol. A sip of this homey, savory comfort food is definitely a treat!

Kinalas is a well-loved Bicol dish that features piping hot thick brown sauce that comes from a cow's or pig’s brain. Pancit canton noodles are incorporated in the soup and garnished with scraped meat from a cow's or pig’s parts, specifically its head. To top it all off, sili and pepper are added. A hardboiled egg can also be thrown into the mix.

If your mouth is already watering, Aling Cely’s Kinalasan is the best place to serve you this delicious Bicolano dish (₱50). Don’t be surprised if upon arriving at the humble carinderia, no fancy chairs or tables can be found. The place might be a bit shabby but Aling Cely, the owner and main cook will more than make up for it with amazing flavors.

Best way to eat kinalas, Aling Cely-style? Partner it with some baduya (₱15) or cassava cake.

Aling Cely’s Kinalasan
Dimasalang St., Brgy. Sta. Cruz
Naga, Camarines Sur
(0939) 377 0008
Open from Mondays to Saturdays, 6 AM - 7 PM

3. Laing from Waway’s Peñaranda

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Probably the best way to eat your way through Bicol is to do it buffet-style! If you have ₱250 to spare, head on over to Waway’s Peñaranda in Legazpi to taste all the great dishes Bicol is known for.

The restaurant has been around since the late 1960s, and it’s been standing strong for several decades because of their excellent dishes. From the outside, Waway’s looks just like a regular home painted in a sunny yellow hue. Inside, the interiors are inviting yet simple, making it feel like you really are just at home ready for mom’s cooking.

Waway’s speciality is Bicol’s laing so be sure to look out for that from the long line of dishes available. Laing is a coconut milk-based dish mixed in with dried gabi leaves, sili, and sometimes garnished with fish, pork, or chicken bits. Laing is such a rich, savory dish that it’s best paired with rice. Use it as a main viand or a side dish, but one thing is guaranteed—laing is a Bicolano dish you won’t ever get tired of.

Waway’s Peñaranda
Peñaranda St., Barangay 28 Bonot
Legazpi City, Albay
(052) 480 8415
Open from Mondays to Satudays, 11 AM - 2 PM; 5 PM - 9 PM;
Sundays at 11 AM - 2 PM

4. Kinunot from Geewan: Home of Bicolano Dishes

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If laing tickled your fancy then a great alternative would be Bicol’s kinunot. This type of coconut milk-based dish partners malunggay leaves with chunks of fish. An authentic kinunot uses stingray or even shark meat.

For the best kinunot in Bicol, locals and tourists alike point to Geewan: Home of Bicolano Dishes. A plate of kinunot (₱90) is enough for one to devour but if you’re still craving more Bicolano delicacies, other must-tries would be their laing (₱60) and Bicol Express (₱55). Partner these dishes with some hot white rice and feast, Bicolano style!

If trekking down to Geewan, don’t be surprised if you need to wait for a bit. The restaurant is mostly packed because tourists and locals like visiting for their dishes and desserts. Rest assured, the waiting game is worth it.

Geewan: Home of Bicolano Dishes
P. Burgos St., Naga City
(052) 472 3888 / (052) 473 3030
Open daily, 9:00 AM - 11:00 PM

5. Crispy Pata from Bob Marlin

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Okay, okay. So crispy pata is not really a Bicolano dish but come on, it’s a certified Filipino favorite. Crispy, juicy deep-fried pork with steaming hot rice and ice-cold beer? Count us in!

So why is it part of an article that highlights Bicolano dishes and restaurants? Well, it’s because there’s a certain restaurant people are raving about for their authentic take on this dish. Bob Marlin has been around for quite some time, and it’s become increasingly popular, even in neighboring provinces, because of their drool-worthy Crispy Pata (₱450).

Plus, their versions of different Bicolano delicacies like laing (₱99), pinangat (₱99) and adobo sa gatang manok (₱289) have seduced people from all over, locals and tourists alike, to drive down to Magsaysay Avenue for a hearty meal. Whether dining with family, friends, a special someone or by yourself, a trip to Bob Marlin promises a good time!

Bob Marlin
Magsaysay Avenue, Naga City
Naga, Camarines Sur
(054) 473 1339
info.bobmarlin@gmail.com
Open daily, 9 AM - 11 PM

FOR THE DESSERT DIE-HARDS

Who says desserts can't be both sweet and spicy? Bicolanos give a wild spin to traditional saccharine nibbles to make sure you end your meal on a hot, we mean high, note!

1. Sili Ice Cream from 1st Colonial Grill

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Be warned: this dessert definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. When we say sweet meets spicy, a scoop of this ice cream definitely delivers just that! 1st Colonial Grill has become popular for their Sili Ice Cream, a creamy frozen dessert punctuated with a hint of spice from homegrown chili peppers.

If you’re still looking for more uniquely flavored ice cream, go for the restaurant’s Tinutungang Ice Cream, whose flavor comes from toasted coconuts. Sweet and smokey, this one’s an absolute winner.

1st Colonial Grill is a must-visit when in Bicol because of their IG-worthy desserts. Their savory dishes are quite popular as well.

1st Colonial Grill
Luis San Los Banos Ave., Legazpi Port District
Legazpi City, Albay
(052) 481 1213
Open daily, 10 AM - 9 PM

2. Bicol Express Dessert from Lila Restaurante

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Yes, you read right: there is such a thing as a Bicol Express Dessert! But before you run the opposite direction, here’s the lowdown on this surprising cold treat.

Lila’s Restaurante’s Chef Benzon Liao made this dessert famous not just because of its uniqueness but also for its innovativeness in producing something world-class. It basically comprises a spicy coconut frozen custard or ice cream, mixed in with some bagoong and pineapple caramel custard. The caramel custard comes from local panusta mixed in with pineapple chunks. It may sound strange but it surprisingly works!

Lila Restaurante
Venus St., Centro Occidental
Polangui, Albay
(052) 486 6688 / (0927) 031 9929
Open daily, 9 AM - 9 PM

3. Spicy Pili Affogato from The Coffee Table

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Coffee lovers, here’s a dessert that will tickle your fancy. The Coffee Table’s best-selling Spicy Pili Affogato (₱85) is one for the books!

An affogato basically combines vanilla ice cream with some hot espresso. As the espresso hits the ice cream, it melts into a perfect cup of creamy, delicious coffee. The Coffee Table takes this up a notch by topping their vanilla ice cream with some crushed sili and pili nuts. The result? An amazing cup of Joe, with a nutty kick.

The Coffee Table is a great hangout space to just sit back and chill. The wooden interiors are perfect for catching up with friends, reading your fave novel, or just enjoying your own cuppa in peace.

The Coffee Table
Magsaysay St., Naga, Camarines Sur
(054) 871 3997 / (0917) 526 3187
Open from Sundays to Thursdays, 11 AM - 12 AM;
Fridays and Saturdays at 11 AM - 1 AM

4. C4 from Woodstone Kitchen and Bar

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Trust Bicolanos to put a creative spin on something as common and well-loved as chocolate cake.

Aptly called the C4, this explosive chocolate cake with a surprising twist is an instant fave from Woodstone Kitchen and Bar. It features a yummy chili-chocolate base with caramel filling—if you’re an adventurous eater with a sweet tooth, then this one’s for you.

Woodstone Kitchen and Bar is a cool place for dinner and a nightcap, with its industrial interiors and laid-back al fresco area. Up for some karaoke? Woodstone’s got you covered, too.

Woodstone Kitchen and Bar
Balatas Rd., Barangay Balatas
Naga, Camarines Sur
(054) 473 2015
Open daily, 8 AM - 1 AM

5. Pili Caramel Cake from La Comida Linda Café + Bistro

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Here's something truly sweet without a hint of spice. It’s no secret that Bicol is famous for its pili nuts, and this particular cake highlights just that. Fluffy yet moist, and balanced with just the right amount of sweetness, this cake is a perfect bookender to a delicious Bicol feast.

Before you go, don't forget to try La Comida’s chili cheesecake, another to-die-for bestseller. Don’t be deceived by the bubblegum pink exterior; it may look sweet and dainty but it packs a punch!

La Comida Linda Café + Bistro is a popular chill spot for tourists and locals. Just grab some hot coffee and pair it with their delicious cakes and you’re good to go. The lovely wooden interiors of this café will make you feel right at home, just like the rest of this warm, welcoming province.

La Comida Linda Café + Bistro
Corner Luna and Bonifacio Sts., Brgy. Luna-Candol
Gubat, Sorsogon
(0927) 167 2574
lacomidalinda@gmail.com
Open daily, 10 AM - 10 PM

How to Get To Bicol:

Since you’re probably already thinking of when best to head to Bicol, here’s a quick cheat sheet to make your journey as hassle-free as possible.

Via Land:
If riding in a private car, the best route to take is via the Asian Highway 26 or the Pan-Philippine Highway or Maharlika Highway. It will approximately take you 8 to 9 hours.

For a more convenient experience, taking an air-conditioned bus going to Bicol from Manila is also a pretty good choice. Bicol Isarog Transport System has sleeper buses to make sure your almost half-day travel is as comfortable as possible. A round-trip ticket will cost you around ₱2,700.

Via Air:
If time is of the essence, then flying to your desired destination is usually the best option. Flights from Cebu Pacific, Airphil Express, Air Asia Zest and Philippine Airlines are available round the clock. Watch for promos, too, and get more bang for your buck!

Via Sea:
There are a few shipping lines that cover Visayas regions to Bicol destinations. Check out Trans Asia and Suplicio Lines if you’re up for traveling by sea.

The Bicol region is absolutely an amazing place to visit if you're looking to explore the country. Its charm lies not just in the beauty of its natural resources or the awesome dishes the region is known for, but in the hospitality and friendliness of its people. A trip to this beautiful destination is certainly a treat for the tummy—and for the heart as well.

Extending your stay in Bicol? Check out our hottest deals in hotels, dining, and more here.

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About Vero
Whenever she’s not plotting her next move for world domination, Vero stays busy churning out ideas for new local shows or digital content. She vows to create stories that put females in a bold and fearless light, all while making her own worth telling. Follow her misadventures at @veroolicious.

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