Tuesday, 12 March 2013

FEATURE: Philippine regional cookery

Laing, the famous dish of Bicol region 

WHEN discussing Philippine regional cookery, we surely notice the influence of the availability of the ingredients and its supply, and in this case a place like the Bicol Region with its unique combination of coconuts, peppers and taro illustrates well this thesis.

Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the case of the hot and spicy cuisine of Bicolandia. Bicol's regular use of gata (coconut milk and cream and chilis in almost all its dishes marks the regions uniqueness relative to the rest of the country's).

The use of gata gives its cuisine an authentic Malay touch. Chili or Sili and coconut cream gata, come together into an appetizing dish to go with rice. Following are some of the more popular dishes for which the region is noted.

1. The famous Laing is a delicious native dish prepared with taro leaves, peeled taro stalks, a little taro root, bits of meat or shrimps lots of chillis, ginger, garlic and onion, then cooked steadily in coconut cream. Most main dishes in the region are based in gata and sili particularly the way vegetables are cooked.

May it be banana blossom, (heart jackfruit, kamias, santol, guava or any edible plant, Bicolanos transform it into a delicious coconut creamed dish topped with chillis which according to them are best eaten before a vigorous activity.

2. Bicol Express so far is everyone’s choice when asked about Bicol’s specialty. It is a mixture of pork meat and shrimp paste sautéed in and onions and lots and lots of green finger chili strips simmered in coconut cream.

This dish is a classic favorite of Bicolano farmers specially taken before an energetic activity to enhance their endurance at work.

3. Kinunot, is an unusual dish prepared with pagi or stingray meat and kalunggay or malunggay - an edible tree leaf used in many local dishes. Just like other Bicol dishes, the main ingredients are coconut milk and spices, in which the stingray is stewed. Bicol is land of the coconuts.

It is situated along the typhoon belt so coconut trees are planted because they can bend and sway with the strong wind... Just like the resilience of their people in difficult times.

I believe I can justly say that Bicolano cuisine has its own distinct identity with their heavy use of coconut milk and chili peppers. Bicol food is generally spicier and richer than the other regions like the Ilocos regions, whose dishes are more spartan and simple.

In the Philippines, a few dishes are named after the cooking method. “Ginata” or “ginataang” means to cook in coconut milk. In fact almost all vegetables are cooked in coconut milk in Bicol.

In the past week, I met with a true blue bicolana, Mrs. M.R.T. and she gave me two new versions of Bicol cuisine.

One is the TINOMOK and the other is the GINATAANG ADOBONG TALONG.

Both dishes are most appropriate for this and the following week, since they are meatless and Lent calls for meatless dishes.

Both dishes have the same method of cooking, and they differ only on the matter of the ingredients.

I. The first is the GINATAANG TALONG.
 (this dish has no taro leaves, stalks or root)

1. 1 kilo of eggplant, sliced 3/4 way lengthwise (do not reach the stem stop cutting an inch or so before you reach the stem)
2. 1/4 kilo dried, salted bacalao rinsed out, (or you can use dried and salted labahita)
3. 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
4. 1/4 cup of julienned young ginger
5. Finger peppers to taste, more if you like spicy and less if you feel overwhelmed by too much spiciness
6. Black pepper, freshly ground, again to taste
7. A few bay leaves, dried, (laurel)
8. 1/4 cup of good vinegar
9. 2 coconuts grated (be sure that they are fully mature)
 (Same as for the second recipe)
10. 1/4 cup of good vinegar
11. either patis, or a shrimp cube, or salt or bagoong if the dried fish is not salty enough
13. 2 cups hot water

II. The second is the TINOMOK
1. About 20 dried taro leaves, dry, not browned, (rinse well and divide each leaf into halves)
2. 1/2 kilo of peeled shrimps coarsely chopped
3. About 4 cups of young coconut meat, (malakanin)

Use each cup for 10 wraps. Minced garlic, salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste) to season the filling. Make filling by mixing the shrimps and the coconut meat, season to your taste with the garlic, salt, and pepper, then wrap in the dried taro leaves. You should use about 1 cup of your mix for every 10 pieces of leaves.

(Same as above)

4. 2 fully mature coconuts for the milk
5. Another set of 1 tablespoon of minced garlic and 1/4 cup julienned ginger
6. Finger chilis to taste

(the above is for the TINOMOK)

7. Either patis, shrimp cube a small amount of bagoong to taste
9. 2 cups hot water.

Note: some good squeezers do not need boiling water, and they can just squeeze the freshly grated coconut and squeeze out the kakang gata.

The actual cooking method is the same for most of the Bicol vegetable cooking. So that the first step is the same.

To begin... (any Pinay knows how to do this, but just in case you don’t)

Pour boiling water on the grated coconut. Let stand for 5 minutes. Mix with your hands and begin squeezing until the coconut milk comes out. If you are good with squeezing, (some are good and can squeeze well) you don’t need a piece of cloth. If you aren’t good, you will need a small piece of very clean cloth to squeeze out the first of the coconut milk (kakang gata). You should have about 2 cups of kakang gata. when you get the kakang gata, set aside.

Pour the water hot (the 2 cups) into the squeezed out grated coconut and again squeeze until you get another 2 cups of 2nd coconut water.

Put the 2nd squeezing in a kawali (better than a pot) and put in all the ingredients (except the vinegar) with the spices at the bottom.


Simmer till the ingredients are tender and what we call naglalangis, meaning that the oil of the coconut begins to come out. At this point, add the kakang gata and bring to a boil. For the TINOMOK, the dish is done.

For the GINATAANG ADOBONG TALONG, you take this next step, and the vinegar to your cooked vegetable and bring again to a boil. (DO NOT STIR UNTIL IT BOILS, THE VINEGAR WILL BE RAW AND ACRID IF YOU DO, THE LOCAL COOKS SAY NAHIHILAW). When the dish boils, the dish is done.

Both the dishes use the same method. So you should have no trouble doing them. So there you have it straight from a Bicolana's mouth.

My thanks to Mrs MRT, who refuses to be named. - SunStar

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