I spent the first 2 decades of my life nourished by three staple ingredients found abundantly in my hometown – coconut milk, chili and balaw or alamang (fresh small shrimp). Thinking about it now, our distinct cuisine must have had evolved together with the different moods of Mother Nature. The countless typhoons that ravage this region have made coconut the most reliable crop, as it can bend and sway with the punishing wind just like its resilient people. The unpredictable outbursts of Mt. Mayon and other dangerously beautiful mountains has made the surrounding lands very fertile, perfect for growing vegetables and other crops. The vast coastline has provided abundant aquatic resources including plankton and krill (small shrimp) which are the favorite food of the Butanding (whale shark) in Sorsogon.
Pinangat: layered taro leaves cooked in coconut milk
We seldom eat meat in our home, but we do eat a lot of fresh seafood, dried fish, and every imaginable edible plant available in our yard. Vegetables and fruit like santol, jackfruit, papaya, cassava leaves, taro leaves, malunggay, banana heart, sigarilyas (as well as other vegetables in the “Bahay Kubo” song) have graced our table, all simmered in coconut milk and loads of chili.
For some reason, my father thinks big chilies are in the same league as these vegetables so he cooks them as well with coco milk and then adds small chilies to make it hot. With some bits of diced pork fat, balaw and extra bits of pork meat when there are visitors, he has concocted his own version of Bicol Express. I call it ginataang sili na may sili, water please! (chili with coconut milk with small chilies)
Laing: Taro leaves cooked in coconut milk
My favorite is gulay na katnga, known to many as laing, a favorite Bicolano dish made of gabi leaves cooked in coconut milk. Its bangot or sahog varies from crab meat, fish meat, or just plain balaw. Another staple food for our dinner is the ever dependable pinangat which we get from a lady who goes around the neighborhood carrying the pinangat in a rattan basket covered with banana leaves. It’s our own version of fast food on weekdays and has provided us with many impromptu meals over the years.
Pasta Mayon : Pinangat Ravioli with tomato sauce
Pinangat comes in two varieties, one of which is just pure layers of gabi leaves while the other one has filling made of extracts of small crabs called Inolukan and other spices. (Oluk is the local name for crabs). Both varieties are available hot or plain. The non-spicy ones are for the young members of our household but my 7 year old nephew has finally come of age now and has learned to eat whatever is served on the table – which is mostly hot and spicy.
So the consensus reaction of everyone when we first heard of pinangat pizza, pinangat pasta and the Bicol Express pasta a few years back was a resounding “yuck”. Sure it wasn’t in the league of some of the quirkiest food in the Philippines like tamilok, papaitan, sisig, or bopis – some of their ingredients like pork’s lungs and heart, animal brains and intestines, and other internal organs would understandably repulse most eaters. But the fusion of our well-loved local favorites with modern cuisine isn’t that easy to accept either. Thinking of pinangat with tomato sauce on ravioli or Bicol express on top of my spaghetti is conceptually akin to dipping bread in an orange juice or putting ketchup in my milk.
Bicolana Pizza: Pinangat/ Laing, pineapple chunks, mushroom and mozzarella
Surprisingly, the fusion was creatively done and has made Small Talk Cafe a huge success. This homey cafe located near the main thoroughfare of Legaspi City has become a destination in itself attracting locals as well as tourists, celebrities and foodies. It serves comfort meals in addition to its best-seller Bicolano fusion dishes.
During one of my homecomings, I finally got the chance to see exactly what my friends had been raving about when I tried this quirky dish of Small Talk Cafe. Together with my mom and nephew who had fetched me from Legaspi Airport, we took the tricycle and went straight to the café for a late lunch. I ordered everything that doesn’t sound right for me and by the time I was done with the food, I had become a believer as well. I enjoyed the pasta with laing while the Bicolana Pizza topped with bits of laing was my nephew’s favorite. The food wasn’t spicy enough for our liking but it sure tasted good.
Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day, someone comes up with kinunot pasta (shredded sting ray meat in coco milk), alamang pizza or chili smoothies.
SMALL TALK CAFÉ
551 Doña Aurora Street, Ilawod East, Legazpi City
Telephones: (054) 480-1393, (054) 820-1477
This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ 3rd Blog Carnival themed quirky foods which is hosted by Journeying James. Click on the Blog Carnival Logo on the left to see more interesting posts regarding Pinoy Quirky Foods in the Philippines.