Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bicol Express (Pork and Chili Peppers Stewed in Coconut Milk and Shrimp Paste)

Bicol or Bikol (Region V) is composed of the four provinces in the Bicol peninsula namely
Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Albay and Sorsogon and two island provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate.  Agriculture is a large component of the region's economy.  
Bicolano cuisine is distinguished for its use of hot peppers and coconut milk.  Laing, Bicol Express and pili nut candies are the most popular specialties in the region.  Laing is a creamy vegetable stew made with dried taro leaves, chili peppers and coconut milk.  
The name "Bicol Express" was coined in Manila to refer to a fiery Bicolano dish called Sinilihan (with Chili Peppers.) The dish is named after the passenger train that takes people from Manila to Bicol. Bicol Express or Sinilihan is a stew made of siling haba (finger chili peppers), coconut milk, pork, shrimp paste, garlic and onion. First timers would say that there's more peppers than meat in this dish.  It is so spicy that it requires a lot of rice on the side. Bicol express is a main entree that can be served for lunch or dinner.
This recipe was made with the suggestions from my friend who is from Bicol. See notes below the recipe to find out about a healthier and tongue-friendly substitutions.
Bicol Express
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 50 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
  • 14 ounce coconut milk (or 1 cup freshly squeezed coconut milk ftom grated mature coconut flesh)
  • 1 knob ginger, roughly chopped and smashed
  • 1/2 pound pork belly, cut into strips
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons uncooked shrimp paste
  • 15 pieces siling haba (finger hot peppers), stemmed and cut diagonally
  • 4 pieces siling labuyo (Thai chili peppers), finely chopped
  • 1/4 kakang gata (cream of coconut)

  1. Combine coconut milk and ginger in a deep skillet over medium high heat.  Bring to a boil.
  2. Add pork, garlic and onion. Simmer for 15 minutes. 
  3. Add shrimp paste and hot peppers. Continue cooking for another 25 minutes or until the pork is tender.
  4. Add cream of coconut and simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Serve warm with rice.
*  Kakang gata or cream of coconut is different from canned coconut cream.  The former is extracted from grated flesh of a mature coconut.  The canned coconut cream is sweetened with sugar so definitely not use the canned one.  If you can't make your own kakang gata, here's a cheater's guide:  Pour the coconut milk from a can in a tall cup and chill for 30-45 minutes. It will cause the "creamy" part of the coconut milk to separate from the liquid.  Skim the cream out snd leave the watery part at the bottom.
* Gata or coconut milk is produced by adding water to the grated flesh of a mature coconut and extracting the liquid from. The process yields more luquid called coconut "milk."
* Pork belly may be replaced with a lean cut of pork (without fat.)
* Try not to decrease the amount of chili peppers too much because by doing so, the dish won't taste as authentic as the Sinilihan dish.  It will taste more like Binagoongang Baboy (Pork in Fermented Shrimp Paste.)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Adobong Pugita (Octopus Stewed in Soy Vinegar Sauce)

Mimaropa (Region IV-B) also known as Southern Tagalog Islands is composed of Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan. The region has a diverse and eccentric cuisine. Marinduque is popular for its Bibingka Lalaki (Male Bibingka), a rice cake that uses tuba or coconut wine; and Arrowroot cookies. Romblon is popular for its dish called Sarsa that is made from boiled coconut,  chilies and tiny shrimp. Palawan is popular for tamilok (shipworm, a worm-like mollusk.)  Mindoro's rich marine life strongly influences the local industry and cuisine.  It is popular for Adobong Pugita, Octopus Adobo.  

Adobong Pugita is made with mature octopus that is cooked in soy and vinegar sauce.  If cooked perfectly, the dish yields a very flavorful and succulent octopus that is well-matched with steamed rice. It is usually served as a main entree for lunch or dinner or as an accompaniment to beer in the Philippines.  

The key to cooking the dish is to cook the octopus as quickly as possible to preserve it's good texture. When overcooked, it becomes chewy and rubbery. I won't suggest prolonged cooking, not even pressure cooking. That will make the octopus rubbery!  I marinated the octopus first before cooking so it will absorb the flavors from the sauce then blanched it in boiling water for 2 minutes. Do not cook the blanched octopus with the sauce. Cook the adobo sauce separately because cooking the two together will cause overcooking.

If you live outside the Philippines,  you can buy octopus from Asian stores or seafood markets. 

So here is my Adobong Pugita recipe:

Adobong Pugita

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

  • 1 whole adult octopus, cleaned,  cut in bitesize pieces, ink sac carefully separated
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water for marinating
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 dried bay leaves, optional
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups of boiling water for blanching

  1. Marinate the cuts of octopus in soy sauce, vinegar, water, salt and pepper for 45 minutes. Drain the octopus and save the marinade for Step 3. Set the marinated octopus aside.
  2. Heat oil in a wok or deep skillet. Saute garlic and caramelize the onion for 5 minutes. 
  3. Pour the marinade on the caramelized onion and garlic. Drop the bayleaves in if using. Add the octopus ink. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced. Turn the heat off.
  4. While the sauce is simmering: bring water to a brisk boil in a separate sauce pan. Blanch the marinated octopus for 2 minutes. Drain well.
  5. Add the blanched octopus to the adobo sauce. Stir to mix and transfer to a serving plate.
  6. Serve warm with steamed rice.
*  Octopus can be substituted with squid.
*  Asian stores and seafood markets carry frozen and fresh octopus.
* Do not overcook the octopus. Follow the time indicated in the recipe and watch it closely. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Pansit Habhab or Pansit Lucban (Stir Fried Noodles with Pork, Liver, Shrimp and Vegetables)

This week's regional specialty is from Calabarzon or Southern Tagalog Mainland in the Philippines. The region is composed of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon Province.  Certain dishes like Longganisang Lucban, Cavite's mussels and oysters, Batangas' bulalo and Lucban's Pansit Habhab are familiar to most Manilenos unlike other  regional specialty dishes from Northern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.  

Pansit Habhab or Pansit Lucban is a stir fried noodle dish that originated from the municipality of Lucban in Quezon Province. It is the most popular street food in Lucban. It is made with miki noodles (dried noodles) that are stir fried and mixed with meat, vegatables and shrimp.  The miki noodles are cooked in beef broth and the meat is seasoned with soy sauce.  The meat includes pork belly (or lechon), pork liver and shrimp.  The vegetables include chayote, carrots, snow peas or sugar snap peas and pechay or baby bok choy.  At first glance, this noodle dish looks like the ordinary Pancit Canton but actually it is so distinct that it calls for banana leaves that serve as a makeshift plate for the pansit.  The pansit is  eaten directly from the banana leaf without using any utensil.  Habhab refers to the manner of eating the dish.  To start eating, grab the banana leaf with noodles in it and push the noodles into your mouth. (Do not eat the banana leaf!) A little cane vinegar is usually sprinkled on the pansit before eating it. Others prefer a combination of soy sauce and lime over vinegar. (See Notes below to find out about where and how to substitute banana leaves.)

So without any further ado, here's our regional specialty for the week and our dinner for tonight!

P.S. Hubby and the kids loved it and had a great time making a mess on the dinner table!

Pansit Habhab or Pansit Lucban

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 8 servings


  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 piece chayote, quartered and sliced thinly
  • 1 cup snow peas
  • 4 bunches of pechay or baby bok choy
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 pound pork belly, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound pork liver, sliced and soaked in 1/2 cup vinegar with 1 tablespoon of salt for 15 minutes
  • 1/2 pound shrimp
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 pound Lucban miki noodles (substitute with dried thick flour noodles)
  • banana leaves for serving, cut in 5x5" squares
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok or a wide-rimmed cooking pan.
  2. Stir fry the carrots, chayote, snow peas and bok choy for 5 minutes.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in the same pan. Saute the onion and garlic for 3 minutes or until the onion turns translucent. 
  4. Add the pork and cook for 5 minutes or until light brown.
  5. Add the liver.  Stir until liver changes color to brown about 2 minutes. Season with pepper.
  6. Push the pork and liver to one side of the pan.  Put the shrimp in. Cook each side for 1 minute.  Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside.
  7. Pour soy sauce and beef broth in the pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  8. Add the noodles and stir continuously until all the liquid is absorbed by the noodles.
  9. Put half of the stir-fried vegetables back to the pan and mix with the noodles and meat.  
  10. Serve the cooked noodles on a banana leaf and top with more vegetables and shrimp.
  11. Serve hot with vinegar or soy sauce and lime on the side.


Where did I get the banana leaves here in Florida? The big Asian store in West Colonial in Orlando has it. If you're wondering whether banana trees could grow in Florida, of course! All you have to do is visit Harry P. Leu Gardens (and others) and you'll see a few of their banana trees and other tropical trees there. Actually there is a neighborhood in Maitland that's very close to a nature preserve.  Hubby and I have been to a house where the owners have planted banana trees on their backyard. After all, banana trees are such low maintenance trees! Anyway,  this blog is not about the leaf, It's about the noodle dish! 

*If you can't find banana leaves, you may substitute it with the leaves from bird of paradise. --And if you don't have those two, you could still enjoy the dish from a plate while using a fork. It doesn't mean that if you don't have banana leaves, you can't enjoy the dish.  

* You may substitute banana leaves with foil paper or wax paper as a makeshift plate. (Again the term "habhab" refers to the manner of eating the dish.) -But if you can't imagine yourself eating without any plate or cutlery, by all means eat from a plate and use a fork!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Filipino Food Aficionado Recipes

Appetizers and Snacks
Soups and Porridge