Philippines,  Recipes,  Travel

Bikol Express & The Romanticism Of The Mayon Volcano

Bikol Express is one of our favourite Filipino dish. I do not know whether it’s because of the amazing taste combining both the spicy taste of chilli and the smooth-sweet taste of coconut milk or whether it’s the stories that I have heard about the Mayon Volcano (below) looming over the horizon that must have romanticised in my mindat-least ten-folds! However, one thing is certain – I find both the dish and the region Bikol absolutely fascinating. Or it could be a combination of three things – the taste hitting us physically, the stories hitting us emotionally and some real adrenaline flying high! Yes, I’m still on a Filipino Food trail triggered off only in my last post Pancit – Palabok, Bihon, Canton… On A Filipino Food Trail – which was a tribute to my Lady Friday (LF), who so diligently looks after our home and our two little ones – the Z-Sisters. And cooks us wonderful Filipino dishes once in a while!

Perhaps, we have some connection with volcanoes. The heavy betrayals that lie beneath a repentant, angry volcano and the visual grandeur of it’s appearance that splendidly covers the inner turmoil fascinates the both of us while the Z-Sisters are yet to figure out a volcano from a sand-dune! Volcanoes pull us like magnets. The smoke emanating from the summit that casts a gloomy spell on a cloudy day or etching a beautiful portrait on a sunny day, absorbs our imagination. Years back we had run upto Mt Etna in Sicily and ran back shuddering at the thought what if it erupts right away? And it did erupt in January 2011. Fortunately, we had visited long before that. But I can tell you that even then when Mt Etna was lying all quiet, you could see the dark grey smoke coming out of the crater and cloud the entire sky. You could ‘feel’ the imminent danger bottling up inside the heart of the cone. And shudder of shudders – One could also trek through a sea of lava right onto the summit! Much later, we’ve also thronged to see Mt Vesuvius looming over the ill-fated city of Pompeii where 16,000 people succumbed to their sleeps as their bodies became covered with the molten lava flowing out of Mt Vesuvius.

LF hails from Bikol. Located in the southernmost tip of Luzon Island, the largest island in the Philippine archipelago, Bicol or Bikol is known for it’s extremely spicy cuisine. Bikol has had a history of trade relations with the Malay-Indonesian kingdoms, India and Arabia. So cuisine here is enriched with their influences, even resulting in a Biriyani dish! But her stories of her region of Bikol has become legendary. She would talk about how her mother brought them up – a handful of only 12 children(!) all by herself, provided them with fresh fruits and vegetables grown on their own land. LF and her siblings would help their mother in the paddy fields, plucking the paddy plants when necessary, planting new seeds while preparing again for new harvest. They would climb up the coconut trees and bring down green tender coconuts and crack them open to take out the soft white kernel (Buko) from inside. She would recall many many stories – which now seems like a a different life from a different time period altogether!

All tales would evolve through acres and acres of green paddy fields and would eventually end up with the beautiful Mayon Volcano! Bicol Region is volcanic in origin and falls under the Pacific Ring of Fire. And the Mayon Volcano, is the most active volcano in this region. Renowned for the ‘perfect cone’ because of its almost symmetric conical shape, Mayon forms the northern boundary of Legazpi City, the largest city in terms of population in the Bicol Region. The mountain has been declared a national park – Mayon Volcano Natural Park and is a protected landscape since 2000. Locals lovingly refer to the Volcano as Bulkang Magayon or the ‘Beautiful Volcano’ after the legendary heroine Daragang Magayon.

The legend as it goes… (Courtesy: Wikipedia, heavily edited by me though!)

Magayon, the only daughter of the Makusog (strong) tribal chief of Rawis, grew up to be a very beautiful and sweet woman who struck the swains from faraway tribes who always vied for her attention. But none of the young men could captivate the heart of Magayon, not even the handsome and haughty Pagtuga (eruption), a hunter who showered Magayon with gifts as he too vied for her attention.

One day, Panginorin/Panganoron/Ulap (cloud), the chief of the Karilaga tribe of the Tagalog region, showed up in Rawis. Unlike the other suitors, he had come a long way just to see the beauty of Magayon. For many days, he simply stole glances of Magayon, from a distance, as she bathed at the Yawa River. After a few more meetings with Magayon, Panginorin signified his intention to marry her by thrusting his spear at the stairs of Magayon’s father’s house. The two were overjoyed but the wedding had to wait for a month’s time as Panginorin had yet to inform his people to gather the provisions for the celebration.

The news spread fast and reached Pagtuga, who became furious. He sent word to Magayon that unless she agreed to marry him, a war will be waged against her father and the Rawis.

Panginorin abandoned the preparations for their wedding to go to Pagtuga. They fought each other until Pagtuga was slained by Panginorin. As a joyous Magayon rushed to embrace Panginorin she too was hit by a stray arrow. While Panginorin held the dying Magayon in his arms, Linog (earthquake), Pagtuga’s henchman, hurled his spear at Panginorin’s back, killing him instantly. Makusog swung his mighty arms and stuck down Linog with his minasbad.

Makusog dug a grave for Magayon and Panginorin. Makusog laid them together as they held each other’s arms. As the days followed, they saw the grave rising higher and higher, accompanied by muffled rumblings, earthquakes, and red-hot boulders bursting from the crater. When this occurs, old folks believe that Pagtuga, aided by Linog, agitates the volcano to get back his gifts, which following ancient custom, was buried with Magayon.

On other days, when the tip of the volcano is covered by clouds, old folks say that Panginorin is kissing Magayon, and afterwards, rain trickles caressingly downthe gentle slopes of the volcano, insisting that they must be the tears of Panginorin.

‘Bulkang Magayon’ has become ‘Mayon’ with the passage of time.

Ahhhh… heart-wrenching folklore! My dear LF, I can imagine how it feels to see highrises and construction, glitzy cars and even glitzier shopping malls engulf you instead of the green paddy fields that you have grown up in. I can imagine that the paddy plants swaying in the breeze must have tickled you many a time when you were growing up and even tickles you sometimes in your dreams nowadays… but just to tell you, my dear LF, you’ve got to lose something to gain something. It’s the truth of life for all of us trying to make a living, wherever we are in whichever part of the world we are!


Seafood Bikol Express

Category – Side-dish; Cuisine type – Filipino

Bikol Express can also be cooked with Lamb, Chicken, Beef or Pork

Bicol Express is a very popular Filipino dish which is our personal favourite. It is a stew made from long special chilies (siling mahaba in Tagalog, lada panjang in Malay/Indonesian), coconut milk, shrimp paste or stockfish, onion, and garlic. Originally cooked as a Pork stew, nowadays it is cooked with any meat in it. Or, seafood for that matter. Why such a peculiar name? Well, Bicol Express was named after the passenger train service from Manila to the Bicol region! Did they serve this meal, did you ask me? Well, my search is still on!

Serves 6-8 persons

Preparation time – 45 minutes maximum (Boiling the Pancit/Noodles or Rice – 10 minutes; Preparing the Bikol Express – 30 minutes)

Onions – 2 big, finely chopped
Garlic – 5 pods, crushed
Coconut Milk – 1 can
Large Prawns – 800gms, deveined with the shell on
String Beans – 200gms, chopped into long slices
Pumpkin – small, cubed
Black Pepper – 1/2 tsp, grounded
Long Thai Green Chilli or Serrano Pepper – 6, cut into long slices
Shrimp Paste – 1/2 cup
Salt – as per taste
White Oil – 2tbsp

Method of Preparation
– Heat White oil in a wok
– Fry the Onions and Garlic till they are brown
– Add the Coconut Milk, Prawns, ground Black Pepper, Salt, Long Green Chillies, Shrimp Paste and stir fry
– Cover the wok with a lid and let the stewt simmer for a while in low seam
– Add the chopped String Beans, Pumpkin Cubes and let them cook for a while (the vegetables should be cooked but not turn soggy and soft)
– Serve Bikol Express either with Pancit/Noodles or fragrant Jasmine Rice

* You can also use mixed sea food along with big Prawns or add small eggplant cubes. Please note: Bikol Express is spicy! Enjoy the pictorial journey of Bikol Express

There are many restaurants in Dubai serving very good Filipino food. But Bikol Express is not that common. We really enjoy our Bikol Express when it’s cooked at home. Otherwise it’s got to be Seafood Bikol Express or even Crab Bikol Express at the Golden Fork restaurant. They have many branches across Dubai and have a huge option of Filipino dishes in their menu – a detailed menu preview can be had here. Well, until my next post where I am hitting the roads on a Halo-Halo trail in Dubai!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals. While you enjoy seeing them please don’t use them. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.


More on my Filipino Food Trail:
Pancit – Palabok, Bihon, Canton… On A Filipino Food Trail
Rasgulla Macapuno On TV & Shubho Bijoya to all!


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