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Bicol, Que Rica!

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The view of Mount Mayon from Sumlang Lake

Every time I see my good friend Rica Dakudao-Buenaflor, it’s always in the context of good food.

I remember her doing a curated Bicol pop-up in Grace Park and more recently, she caught me hovering her best of Bicol goodies. A week after, I was off in a plane, with  time I don’t have, exploring one of the dearest regions to my heart. 

More than being one of Instagram’s favorites, with its pristine beaches, outdoor activities, volcanic beauty and iconic festivals, Bicol is a place filled with a rich history, culture and variety of flavors, and emanating in the unique cuisine found in its humblest of towns and barrios. Bicol’s best-kept secret? Food.

My good friend, Chef Rica Dakudao- Buenaflor invited me to a culinary journey of the Bicol region last July. And I must say, the Best of Bicol Food Tour opened my eyes to the different flavors that Bicol has to offer.

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The Best of Bicol Food Tour crew with Siama Hotel’s Milo Naval

Together with the Tourism Promotions Board COO Marie Venus Tan, TPB Market Specialist Albert Gadia, and The Manilla Collectible Co. President Charisse Aquino-Tugade, we embarked on a three-day, land-to-sea experience, which started in Camarines Sur, made its way to Albay and with Sorsogon as the last stop.

Camarines Sur welcomes the first day of the tour. This place has given birth to cuisines, notably distinct from one town to the next. When we arrived in Naga City, we were welcomed with a Bicolandia feast for lunch at Qué Pasa Naga. The lunch expanded our knowledge of Bicolano cuisine, apart from the laing and Bicol Express. After lunch, we were graced by the presence of notable Bicol historian Danny Gerona, as he told us stories wherein we learned more about Bicol.

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The beautiful dinner table setup at Little Pecuaria Farm during our first night at Bicol. Naga’s favorite combo: the kinalas and turon

For merienda, we headed over to Baao, Camarines Sur, for banana blossom burgers from BidiBidi Café by artist and philanthropist Bidibidi de los Santos. Aside from her best-selling healthy offering, we were delighted to see her beautiful designs up close. Right before the sun has set, we learned how to cook laing by way of authentic Bicol cooking in a class by Nanay Edna and Chef Rica at Little Pecuaria Farm in Bula, Camarines Sur, where the most beautiful view of Mount Isarog looms in the background. After the cooking class, we ended the day with great food prepared by Chef Jet Sumayao of Qué Pasa Naga, paired with Ibalon Craft Brew’s sili beer, under a canopy of stars.

The next day, we started the day early with a tour of the Naga City Public Market, where we got to know some of Bicol’s homegrown produce. Afterwards, we savored a steaming bowl of kinalas for breakfast at Mang Kok’s. We bade goodbye to Camarines Sur, as we headed off to Albay.

On the way to the city of Legazpi in the province of Albay, we treated ourselves to classic roadside snacks like puto sa bao, biniribid and sinapot in the town of Ligao. Our first stop at Albay is at Camalig, home to the beautiful Sumlang Lake. We were treated to a lunch by Socorro’s Lakeside Restaurant with dishes native to Albay. After a hearty meal, Chef Ato of Socorro’s taught us how to make pinangat, a classic Albayanon dish, with the beautiful view of Mount Mayon as our background. After a much-needed time to rest and relax, Jessica Wong of Casa Simeon invited us to a dinner in their beautiful ancestral home, repurposed to be a specialty accommodations hotel.

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The kinunot, a local dish from Sorsogon, as prepared by Siama Hotel’s Chef Meann Guardian, This is what’s inside a serving of pinangat, as shown by Chef Ato of Socorro’s Lakeside Restaurant and Bicol meets Spain with this delicious laing paella by Qué Pasa Naga’s Chef Jet Sumayao.

The weather was a tad bit gloomy during our trip, but that didn’t stop us to make our way to the last stop of the tour, Sorsogon. We headed over to Siama Hotel by furniture designer Milo Naval. And true to their promise, it truly became our home in Sorsogon. The hotel was a beautiful showcase of Milo’s craftsmanship, from the interiors, to the furniture, up to the smallest detail. While there, Chef Rica taught us how to eat fresh pili fruits picked from the Siama Hotel’s backyard garden. The pili fruit, one of Bicol’s most famous local fruit, produces the pili nut, which is actually the healthiest nut in the world right now. It’s truly a local product that not only Bicol, but the Philippines as well, should be championing across the world. From Sorsogon City, we went to nearby Gubat, Sorsogon, where Siama Surf, another beautiful creation by Milo, is located. That’s where Chef Meann Guardian showed us how to cook the kinunot and baluko, Sorsogon’s staple dishes.

In just three days, I was able to discover the beauty of Bicol, and was able to see it in another perspective—and a tasteful one at that! I’d highly recommend this tour to friends and colleagues who are always on the lookout for a gastronomic adventure that is refreshing and a feast for all of my senses. Realizing that there really is more to the “Best of Bicol,” I’ll take a mental note and come back anticipating for more surprises.

Follow the Best of Bicol crew via their Instagram and Facebook page @bestofbicolofficial.

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