While cousins from Manila grew up with McDonald’s, my sister and I often boasted that we had our own burgers and fries place – Mang Donald’s. Back in the 80’s, this was the original name of Bicol’s beloved food chain, an American retro diner, which is better known as Bigg’s today.
The Bigg’s vibe is all about vintage memorabilia, retro music and a cozy ambiance. Dining here offers a taste of nostalgia – a step back in time to the good old days.
I have a lot of fond memories of Bigg’s growing up in Naga City. My childhood barkada and I would often eat merienda here after watching a double feature at Advent Cinema back when the movie ticket prices and popcorn cost about 20 pesos each. If you missed the start of the movie, you had to sit through whatever was its “ka-double” to catch the start, so we would always be extra hungry.
Years have passed, movie tickets now cost more than 100 pesos, and friends are scattered in different parts of the globe. I myself have been based in Manila for years, but I always look forward to going back to my hometown where my parents have settled. Simple and laid-back, Naga City has always been a “Maogmang Lugar” (Happy Place) to live in. While lots of big name fast-food joints can now be found in Naga City, I’m glad that Bigg’s Diner has stood the test of time. From the first branch under the Advent Cinema which opened in January 18, 1983, Bigg’s has grown into a chain of 14 branches across Bicol with 2 reaching as far as Lipa and Batangas.
So when the invitation came for a Bicol Tour to celebrate Bigg’s 30th Anniversary, I didn’t hesitate to join. The 3-day tour literally took us “Around Bicol in 30 Plates”, and brought us to some of my favorite scenic spots in Naga City, Iriga City and Albay, where we got to enjoy the sights in between some of diner’s best-sellers and new hometown additions.
After taking an overnight bus via Isarog Lines from Manila to Naga City, we started our Bicol tour with a filling breakfast of Tapsilog, a deliciously thick hot chocolate and a bonus dessert of Black Forest cake at Bigg’s Magsaysay Ave. The restaurant has a 1980s vibe with transistor radios, old-school gadget displays and a 1950’s jukebox machine.
Since it was too early to check in, we immediately went on to the activity planned for the morning – an ATV Ride to Malabsay Falls and back, a pretty thrilling ride which I got to try earlier this summer. The last time, I got to drive all the way from Magsaysay Avenue to the falls & hotpsrings. This time, it was a shortened route from the gate of the hot springs up to the falls. While most were excited to ride an all-terrain vehicle for the first time, Art of Outside Slacker opted to ride a rented bike all the way down the road to the hotsprings and up the rough dirt and rock trail to the falls.
There weren’t enough ATV units so the group was split in two, with most of the bloggers heading to the waterfalls first while the rest of us headed down to Panicuason Hot Springs. One of the newest attractions here is the Tyrolean Traverse and trustfall, where you have to cross a rope between two towers 20 feet high, then let go in the middle and just fall into the net below. It’s said to be “similar to bungee jumping” except you let go and fall backwards instead of jumping forward. It was quite a rush and I got a bit of a rope burn from holding on to the rope as I fell. If you’re a thrill-seeker, you’ll want to try this one out.
While some relaxed in the hot springs fed by volcanic rocks, the others in the group tried out the 200-meter zipline here, which is currently the fastest in Bicol. Riders get to rush down at a speed of 60km/hr from 280 feet above. Getting there is quite a hike since you have to climb about 350+ steps to get to Tower 2. A shorter 100-meter zipline is more suited for kids.
We took over the ATVs from the other group to visit Malabsay Falls, a 40-foot high waterfall nestled in Mt. Isarog Natural Park. We drove the ATVs to the entrance of the park and hiked down the moss-covered steps to the basin of the falls. Locals here like to jump from a spot on the rocks about 20-feet up. If you’re a first timer to the falls, you have to try it out. My memories of the icy cold water were still too fresh from my last visit, so I decided skip that.
The morning’s activities left us pretty hungry, so while we were at the falls, we stopped for a picnic of Bigg’s Extreme Supreme Burger with french fries & Rock n Roll Iced Tea. The burger, topped with really crispy bacon and a savory dressing, was one of my favorite meals of the trip. I managed to get one obligatory food shot before devouring this down in record time.
On the way back from Mt. Isarog Park, I tried riding the 4×4 to take better pics of the scenery. It was a pretty bumpy ride that had us stooping down a lot to avoid being smacked on the face by low hanging branches. The dirt road riddled with huge rocks was a bit slippery to drive. I imagine it would be very difficult for normal sedans to traverse this route. The trail heading to Mount Isarog is really better suited for all-terrain vehicles, 4x4s and mountain bikes. But the view of Isarog and surrounding landscape is really something.
Back in Naga City, we made a couple of stops at the Biggs Commisary and at J. Emanuel’ Pili Nut Processing to see how pili nuts are made into candies. This store sells a range of candied pili nut sweets, crispy pili nuts, bottled Bicol Express, abaca products and other souvenirs. Incidentally, the store is located in the village I grew up in, so I found it very amusing to visit, with my parent’s house just a few blocks away. While I always stop here to buy pasalaubong, I never knew that the top of the house was actually a factory where the pili nuts are processed.
After the pili shopping spree, we got to check into Avenue Plaza Hotel, our hotel for the night. It seems like just a few years ago when there were only a handful of budget inns in Naga City, so it’s really a sign of development that the city can sustain a hotel of this caliber. Located along Magsaysay Avenue behind a mini-mall with several restaurants, the hotel keeps guests within easy distance of shopping, entertainment, dining centers and historical attractions in metro Naga. Rooms are elegant, while remaining warm and comfortable. The hotel has its own in-house restaurant and a two-level infinity pool.
Our next stop was SM Naga for a very heavy merienda. There was an appetizer platter of fried goodies including cheese sticks, french fries and chicken poppers that went great with the herb sauce. We washed it down with a Rocky Road shake that seemed to be topped with peanut butter or chocnut. Both were really good. That would have been enough, but waiters suddenly brought out plates of Bigg’s Spaghetti with BBQ and crispy chicken for each of us!
After claiming our free Havaianas flip-flops, we checked out the Best of Bicol Exhibit in SM Naga. There was an installation art exhibit showcasing the different provinces of the Bicol region, a photography exhibit and some Bicol products for sale. I spotted some really cool vintage inspired Naga shirts from Su-bit Prints on display there! They don’t have a physical store yet but you can order shirts online from their Facebook page. Shirts cost P300-400 each.
After driving a bit around to visit several city landmarks and churches, we headed to our dinner stop at Bigg’s Diner Centro. More food!
Dinner was this really tender Baby Back Ribs bathed in spices with a siding of Macaroni Salad. I was so full after barely finishing half of it. Then they brought out a Molten Lava Cake with ice cream for dessert. Calorie count just skyrocketed. 10 plates down, 20 to go!
MORE PHOTOS HERE: TRIP HIGHLIGHTS: Around Bicol in 30 Plates