SAY “Bicol Express.” Reaction? Salivate or cringe?

Those who love Pinoy food know about this popular delicacy and the rest of the hot and spicy cuisine of the Bicol Region. Some chase the sweat-inducing spiciness while some don’t care for it and settle with the labuyo-less coconut-flavored preparation.

There is an entire spread of this regional cuisine at the Cafe Marco of Marco Polo Hotel whipped and spiced up by Chef Doy Sto. Domingo of Chef Doy’s Gourmet in Naga City, and by now, there must be a few souls that have fanned their tongues, or returned for a few more bouts with the chili.

From the wide array of offerings, I fell in love with the coconut-based seafood and chicken dishes. The beef and pork dishes were quite tempting but I had to skip those because of my diet. I mistakenly bit into a Chili Wrap (finger chili stuffed with ground pork and shrimps wrapped in lumpia wrapper) and resisted with all might to finish the delicious appetizer. (I succeeded, by the way).

What I wasn’t able to resist were the desserts, to do so is suicidal. I went against the medical practitioners,' doctor and dentist, advice to avoid the sweets. The Bicolandia desserts were delicious, a bit too sweet for my taste (done so to counteract the spicy flavors of the entrees) but good.

The Biniribid (rice flour with coconut shavings, deep fried and coated with melted sugar), Bicol’s version of the Pilipit, was surprisingly good. The Binut-Ong (glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves and simmered in coconut cream) served with Latik (coconut cream with panucha) I can have anytime of day, which I can say the same for the Gnataang Langka (which was ingenuously served in a young coconut shell). I never say no to Turon ergo I had to try the Chef’s tweaked version with Pili Nuts and served in a bamboo shoot.

Just when I thought I was done with my sweet journey aboard the Bicol Express came the highlight of the desserts -- the Sili Pili Ice Cream (pureed Siling Labuyo blended with Vanilla ice cream in lieu of the homemade ice cream and crushed Glazed Pili Nuts). The biting flavor of the chili perfectly complemented the sweetness of the ice cream sent me to dessert heaven. Amazing! So amazing that I completely neglected my diet and feasted on three servings (punishment the day after).

Yes, I will say I had a very sweet journey aboard the Bicol Express. Hop on, there’s a few more days left until the ride to Bicol Region’s culinary trip ends at the Cafe Marco.

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