By Nathan Allen
About a year ago, the media posted my letter to a Polish blogger: "In defense of Filipino food". At the top of my list of favorites? Bicolano cuisine, and "pinangat" from Albay, to be exact. However, originally I didn't come here for the food...that was just a bonus. I had come for a glimpse of the world's most "perfect cone" volcano - awe-inspiring Mt. Mayon!
Seriously, I think everybody should see Mt. Mayon at least once in their lifetime.
Albay is part of the Bicol region, in the eastern Philippines. Along with English and Filipino (Tagalog), people here speak their own language called Bicol. "Magayon" is the Bicol word for "beautiful", and it is the word from which "Mayon" is derived.
As you can see below, there was no shortage of things for me to experience here...people come from all over the world to photograph and climb Mt. Mayon, but you can also take a thrilling ATV ride up as far as half way! Lignon Hill and Cagsawa Ruins (below) are popular tourist destinations to take pictures of Mayon as well.
(Assortment of Albay Photos - click them for more info)
Albay is a very progressive and forward-thinking province, with many environmental, tourism, and safety awards under its belt. It is the first place I visited in the Philippines where people seemed to be proud of their government officials. They talk about Governor Joey Salceda as if he was a close friend of theirs!
"Gov" (as they call him), seems to have done a great job bridging the gap between the people and the government - no easy feat in the Philippines!
Need to cool off? Vera Falls in Malinao is the perfect place to swim and take photos. I was impressed by the local caretaker's dedication to keeping the area clean and safe. If waterfalls are your thing, also be sure to check out Busay Falls in Malilipot! (ABS-CBN did some promotion for Albay and interviewed me here. Thanks Jose, Jonathan + team!)
In Albay I saw how some local products are made: “Manila Hemp” from Abaca (in Camalig), Ceramics (in Tiwi), pinangat (@ Zeny’s in Camalig), and Guinobatan longganisa (@ Yangmatt’s in Guinobatan)
You can get “hands on” experience by making them all yourself!
Bicol is well known for their food that is cooked in “gata” or coconut milk. The province is blessed with a lot of coconut trees and one would notice that almost all their dishes are cooked in coconut milk.
One of the famous Bicolano dishes to try is “Laing” or “gabi”. These are taro leaves that are air dried first, hung upside down to drain the water fast from the leaves, then after drying the leaves for a few days, chopped into small pieces and cooked in coconut leaves and chili pepper. Sometimes it is best to include few cuts of meat or dried fish to it. The spicy and creamy taste of this dish made it very famous all over the country that almost every Filipino, not just in Bicol region, had tasted it.
Laing from Bicol
Another well known dish from Bicol is “Bicol Express” named after the train. It is small cuts of pork meat cooked in shrimp paste (bagoong alamang) and heavy coconut milk with a lot of green chili pepper. This is a must try for everyone who goes to Bicol. Though it can be cooked easily at home, “Bicol Express” cooked by a Bicolano has a very distinct taste that you will never forget.
When it comes to sweets, Pili nuts or candied Pili nuts is one Bicolanos can be proud of. Pili trees are usually found in the forests of Bicol Region. These oval shaped nuts with sharp ends turned in magenta colors mean they are ready to harvest. The process of making them in a delicious candy treat is a bit long. After they harvest the nuts, they would need to dry them because the nutshells are slippery, thus making it harder when they remove the nutshells. After that when they get the white part they have to boil it first before cooking it in sugar.
Albay Pilinut Candy
Albay Pilinut Candy
These are only few of the known foods in Bicol. Make sure you try them all when you get to visit the beautiful province of Bicol.