Bicol Express with its tender pork cooked in coconut milk, shrimp paste, and chilies will bring in your appetite. A well-known dish in the Philippines that goes well with steamed rice.
Summer is almost over and we can already feel some chill in the air. I decided to cook this spicy dish one rainy night to bring in some heat and boy did it deliver! From the first spoonful until we finished our meal my husband was sucking in air to relieve some of the spiciness. Don’t get me wrong though, he liked it very much, that’s just how he is when eating anything spicy lol!
Why is it named like a train?
As the story goes, the name of the dish “Bicol Express” did come from a train that passes behind the restaurant of its creator Mrs. Kalaw. Legend has it that when Mrs. Kalaw finished her “chef d’oeuvre”, customers are already coming in. With no name for the dish and short on time, the train came passing by along with the “AHA” moment giving birth to this beloved dish.
With the story of how the dish came to light, it is aptly named in my opinion notwithstanding the train. The Bicol region of the Philippines is known for its cuisine using chilies and coconut milk. I believed this two ingredients and the addition of shrimp paste is what makes the dish unique and delicious.
Dishes you should try when in Bicol
When visiting the Bicol region, never pass on the opportunity to try their other great cuisines. The humble yet tasty Laing is a vegetable dish made of taro leaves, coconut milk, and chilies but in my version I used spinach. When on the road, these toasted siopao will keep your hunger at bay. Unlike the steamed version these buns are toasted to give it more texture.
Tips for Bicol Express
Tone down the heat – You can adjust the spiciness of the dish by adding the chilies lastly after the pork have tenderized from simmering.
Type of chili to use – I used red and green long chilies for this recipe and it’s really spicy. If you’re up to it or want more kick, you can also use bird’s eye chili or other chilies you fancy.
Sauté – pork with the onion and garlic really well or until light brown in color. After adding the shrimp paste let it simmer for a minute or two for the taste to absorb.
The secret ingredient is always LOVE
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- 1 kilo 2.2 lbs pork belly (cut into strips)
- 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 1 medium onion (sliced)
- 3 red or green long chilies (or bird's eye chilies)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 ½ tbsp shrimp paste
- 1 ¼ cup coconut milk
- ¼ tsp salt (adjust according to preference)
- ¼ tsp pepper (adjust according to preference)
- In a pan over medium heat, sauté onion until translucent then add garlic and sauté until fragrant.
- Add pork belly strips and cook until light brow in color or no traces of pink left. Tip in shrimp paste and mix to coat the pork. Let simmer for 2 – 3 minutes for the taste to absorb.
- Add salt, pepper, and chilies then mix to incorporate. Pour coconut milk, then stir a bit to distribute the pork evenly.
- Cover with lid and turn down the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the pork is soft and tender. Transfer in a serving dish and serve while hot. Bon appetit!
- To tune down the spiciness you can add the chilies last after the pork has softened. Simmering the pork with the chilies will make it more spicier.