What’s the longest you’ve had to wait for good food? You walk into a restaurant, sit at the table, order your dish, and the waiter tells you it’s going to take some time before it’s served. You groan inwardly as your stomach growls violently, but you wait it out, hoping that the food will be worth the additional time. If you’re hungry, thirty minutes is agony, an hour is eternity.
So, you can imagine how torturous it was to sit in a car for 17 long hours, knowing that a feast awaited us at the end of the drive. The destination was Bicol and Bookie was our ticket to the good stuff. The group was made up of friends and curious travelers hungry for food and adventure. Of course, we had some stop-overs and light snacks along the away, but we were reserving our appetite for the gustatory delights that were promised to us. As we sped away from Manila and braced ourselves for the lengthy trip, I conjured up images and scents of Bicol Express, laing, and other Bicolano dishes, keeping hunger at bay with some granola and chips.
At 9 PM, we arrived at Lola Sayong Eco Surf Camp in Sorsogon, our first stop on the itinerary, where we were rewarded with a boodle fight. We indulged in grilled fish, liempo, vegetables, fruits, and mounds of rice – but that was just the beginning and not even distinctly Bicolano. Over the next days, we got a real taste of what the province had to offer. Here were five of the best dishes we tried at the BookEat Bicol trip:
1st Colonial’s Sili Ice Cream
1, 2, 3, or volcanic? This is a question that servers ask customers who order their famous sili ice cream. We took our companion’s word that number 2 was not spicy at all, forgetting that she was Bicolano and therefore used to having her tongue set on fire. The ice cream had a thick creamy consistency and tasted of coconut or gata. Those of us who ordered number 3 ended up lolling our tongues out and panting for water. The spiciness did not immediately hit you; it was a creeping sensation that spread from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat, which lasted for a good while and left your taste buds numb. If ever I find myself in the restaurant again, I’m definitely going for a lower intensity level of either 1 or 2 so I can better enjoy the flavor.
While at Sumlang Lake, we were treated to an interesting foodie lecture. I’m no cook but it was interesting to find out how this shredded taro dish, so loved by Bicolanos, was made. With a cloudy Mt. Mayon as our backdrop, Kuya Jomar from Zeny’s Pinangat demonstrated how Zeny Nocedo made her sought-after version. He laid out all the ingredients and talked about how Zeny’s used only the freshest gabi leaves. They also cooked their pinangat using clay pots and wood fire, making it more aromatic and tasty.To cap off the demonstration, we got our fill of Camalig’s creamy, spicy pinangat as the last rays of the sun shone on the lake.
Bob Marlin’s Bicol Express
This was what I was truly waiting for. I’m a big fan of Bicol Express and I knew we couldn’t leave the province without having this wonderful, wonderful pork stew of siling mahaba, coconut milk, and other good things. And Bob Marlin’s version did not disappoint. It was spicy and rich and just so sinfully good with hot, white rice. Is this love? I think it was. (Their Crispy Pata was also fantastic!)
Small Talk’s Bicolana Pizza
Everything we ordered in Small Talk was dee-lish! The concept was similar to Herencia Cafe in Ilocos, where the conventional Ilokano fare like pinakbet and bagnet were given a twist. In Small Talk, the Bicolano stars like Bicol Express and Pinangat appeared as toppings on thin-crust dough or mixed into pasta sauces. The spiciness was just right, and the flavors were full and satisfying. I’d definitely go there again!
Siama’s Roasted Chicken with Pinangat and Bicol Express Topping
If you want beauty and nature to surround you as you sit down for a meal, then Siama is the place to escape to. The boutique hotel nestled in a coconut plantation was a sight to behold with its bountiful greens and sleek interiors. Designed by Milo Naval, Siama’s interiors were elegantly Filipino, every room paying homage to the traditional nipa hut. The food was just as visually appealing and downright delicious. Everything, from the pandesal and coconut jam to the main course of roasted chicken to the kakanin and mangga, was a treat for the senses.
Bonus for halo-halo lovers (and even the non-lovers):
I’ll admit it, I’m not a big fan of halo-halo. Something about having too much of too many ingredients – particularly, the beans – did not appeal to me. In fact, when we went to DJC Halo-halo, I did not order my own halo-halo, saying that I would share with anyone who couldn’t finish their own. BIG mistake. Full though I was from the last meal, I found myself scooping spoon after spoon of DJC’s icy treat. It had just the right amount of ingredients (no beans, yay!) and was deliciously refreshing until the last spoonful. We all wished we could take our own stocks of this dessert to Manila. Even if we could, though, it probably wouldn’t last thirty minutes in the car.