In Bicol, indulge in sili ice cream and more spicy sweets
Bicol’s sili (chili) ice cream started as a novelty dessert, with the aim to promote the region. Sweet yet spicy – a weird flavor combo that proved to be a hit with locals and foreigners alike.
During the Madrid Fusion Manila 2016, the ice cream was a hit. “Ang sili ice cream talaga ang binabalik-balikan (It was the sili ice cream that participants and attenders kept coming back for),” recalled chef Andhei Nacion of The Oriental Hotel, which was also a participant together with HML Corporations-Daraga.
The US Navy on board USNS Mercy that visited Albay in June 2016 responded the same. “Nag-order ulit sila kahit namumula na ang mukha at pinagpapawisan pa (They re-ordered even their faces were already red and sweating),” Rowena Aspe, the person behind the ice cream, told us during our November visit at its branch in Ayala Malls-Legazpi. They took some home too, for their fellow personnel, she added.
Today, sili ice cream is a tourism icon for bagging the best panghimagas (dessert) award in the first Choose Philippines Awards held last December, where bloggers, influencers and industry experts nominated, trimmed down, and voted for finalists in different categories together with online users.
It is also a trendsetter in the local food scene. You'll know you're in Bicol because of the following new spicy desserts, drinks, and appetizers from different cafes and restaurants in the region.
Bicol Express Ice Cream
The sili ice cream flavor combination may be weird, but weirder still is chef Benzon Liao's spicy coconut custard ice cream topped with bagoong – fermented shrimp that is used as a condiment in the Philippines. According to him, you may taste the ice cream first, then try it with the cooked bagoong, and then try it with everything, including the panutsa caramel and sauteed pineapple chunks. Overall, it is a clever mix, where pineapple's tangy kick blends well with bagoong and sili.
Lila Restaurante in Polangui Albay, where chef Benzon is the head chef and co-owner, also serves roast squash soup and bamboo shoot salad for appetizers, roast meats and buttered shrimps for meals, and equally inventive drinks. The violet lemonade is a mix of boiled blue-hued flower, lemongrass and honey. A cup of yellow lemon is added to give it the indigo color which the restaurant is named after. Try pandan juice if you prefer something subtle.
Trying the restaurant's “weirder” meals feels like a ritual. You instantly pay respect to the kind of attention and inventiveness given by the chef.
Spicy Pili Affogato
Affogato, the Italian word for drowned, is a simple treat of ice cream and espresso. It may be sweet, but it comes with a punch, making it an ice cream float for adults. The Coffee Table in Naga City tops theirs with crushed pili nut and sili slices.
While locals were not ready for this original concept, keeping the café proved to be a good decision.
La Comida Linda’s cheesecakes are dense, creamy, and satiny in texture. Its frozen mix of cream cheese and sugar comes with a twist, as it is also spicy.
The owner wanted the menu to be family-style to share home-cooked meals with customers. These include roast chicken, the signature pork bagoong rice, and spicy buttered seafood like crabs, gingered lapu-lapu, and blue marlin steak.
If you fancy a no-rice diet, there's also seafood pizza, kimchi quesadilla, scalloped potatoes, and seafood pasta paired with a crusty baguette, all made in-house.
A café adjacent to the restaurant in Gubat, Sorsogon offers specialty pili caramel cake, chocolate fudge, loaves of bread, and more pastries that can be paired with single-origin coffee from El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Honduras.
Yes, La Comida Linda's menu is homegrown, picked, cooked, and presented with fine dining in mind.
C4 (Chili Choco Caramel Cake)
Woodstone’s C4 is not a bomb, but it sets your mouth on fire. With Chef Ton’s, chocolate-chili combo, spiciness bursts through the chocolate, triggering an explosion of tastes. Equally addictive is the chili choco coffee cocktail, which is a mix of beer, brandy, Brailey’s, cayenne pepper, and coffee liqueur.
Chef Ton extends this “explosive” feel with his crispy pinangat, crunchy pork cordon bleu, cheese crusted fish fillet, and dinuguan crunchy mix, which uses deep fried pieces of intestine instead of chicharon.
At Woodstone, you can dine in the veranda-type setting, al fresco, or in the comfort of the air-conditioned semi-private room. The bar is open air, and there is also a private karaoke bar.
The name sounds familiar, right? 528 Ilawod in Daraga, Albay also has a version of Starbucks' spicy, chocolatey coffee, which wakes up your taste buds and reduces the sweetness. It's worth trying, even for those who are timid when it comes to spicy food, as the café has gotten the blend right.
Ilawod, as locals call it, serves locally produced coffee from the Manobo tribe in Cotabato. As a single-origin coffee shop, it aims to introduce the coffee's distinct taste in every bag. Customers not only become aware of our local coffee beans, but also give our farmers the chance to receive the Cup of Excellence Award.
The cafe has artsy interiors, uses upcycled tables, and is located in a historical place in Albay.
The Oriental Hotel holds a Wednesday dinner buffet with the best of Bicolandia as its theme. What better way to start it than with a spicy appetizer, right? Hence, the volcanic potato, a baked potato wrapped in bacon with creamy coconut filling. When cut in the middle, the spicy melted cheese will burst out, similar to a lava cake.
For signature Bicol dishes with a twist, pinangat prawn and Bicol express pasta are must-tries. The hotel also serves homegrown meals like tinutungang manok (chicken dish cooked in coconut milk and toasted in charcoal), as well as comfort food like binut-ong (glutinous rice with coconut milk) and pansit bato and dried fish in support of local produce.
1st Colonial Grill continues to explore local ingredients for its menu including ice cream flavors. According to Bong Aspe, owner of the restaurant, "this formula is challenging. But it proves to hit two birds with one stone."
The restaurant gets to support local produce in the region, especially sili and coconut, and promote Bicol. Its commitment to pioneering innovative Bicol dishes has made it a prime mover in the local food scene, along with the region's pioneering food chains and specialty cafes. Soon, it will be releasing descriptions of its whole menu in the form of tigsik in support of this Bicol literary expression.
In the meantime, these new takes on Bicol cuisine, from specialty restaurants and cafes in Bicol, are a sign of something encouraging. – Rappler.com