Aside from the great surf and host of nature and outdoor adventures, the province of Catanduanes in the Bicol region boasts of some of the best food. Bicolano cuisine is known for its generous use of gata (coconut milk) and spicy ingredients. Mix that with the natural abundance of seafood in the island-province, and you’ve got a perfect match. Here’s a food diary of the most memorable meals from my trip there.
Lobster: This delicious dish of steamed lobster was served for lunch in Majestics Beach Resort in Puraran Beach, a major surfing and tourist destination in the province. The meat of the lobster tasted tender and a bit sweeter than crab meat. Since the flavor was a bit mild, this went really well with calamansi and soy sauce.
Octopus: Octopus adobo was another dish served during our lunch at Puraran Beach. While adobo (a dish with meat or seafood marinated in garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce) is very popular in different provinces, it’s usually cooked with chicken, pork or squid. This was my first time to encounter octopus cooked this way. Eating the tentacles felt a bit weird, since the octopus was served whole and not chopped up like how squid usually is, but it was still pretty good.
Steamed Crabs: Am a fan of crabs cooked in any way, but the crabs served in Bagamanoc, a town located at the northeastern part of the province of Catanduanes directly facing the vast Pacific Ocean, were just huge. I ignored most of the other dishes, which included fish and meat in favor of one whole crab, and it was a very satisfying meal.
Bicol Express: A signature vegetable dish from the region made of gabi, coconut milk, sili, and shrimp paste, Bicol express goes great with any type of seafood. One of the best variants was served in Kemji Resort and Resto near the airport in San Isidro Village, Virac. The hotel, which has a cozy al fresco resto called Cafe Teraza overlooking a swimming pool, serves mainly Chinese fare like lumpiang shanghai and pancit, as well as a few Bicolano staples like Bicol Express.
Prawns: We stayed a couple of nights in Twin Rock Beach Resort, so we got to sample a lot of the food in their in-house restaurant. The prawns were larger compared to the shrimps I normally buy from the markets in Manila. One lunch there, we had prawns cooked in garlic butter, and for dinner, we had it in sinigang na hipon (a soup with a tamarind sauce base).
Chili Cupcake: Since our flight back to Manila got cancelled, we had an extra day to explore the city center. My colleagues and I visited the Virac Public Market to buy traditional abaca souvenirs, where we chanced upon these chocolate-chili cupcakes (P4.00/each) for sale in one of the small bakery stalls there. They tasted like normal chocolate cupcakes with just a spicy kick of chili.
Pili Nut Products: Aside from sili, pili is another popular product from the Bicol region, as the pili nut trees grow naturally in all the provinces there. Pili nuts, which taste kind of like almonds, are used in all sorts of sweet delicacies like pili candy, pili polvoron and Mazapan de Pili, which are popular souvenir products sold in the public market, bus terminals and airports.
Tuna Sashimi and Kilawin: During our last dinner at Twin Rock Beach Resort, our hosts treated us to a great feast. They had just bought fresh tuna from the market, so they served it in different ways, including grilled, tuna sashimi and kilawin (seviche). The sashimi and kilawin both tasted refreshing and provided a great contrast to all the fried dishes.
Crabs in Coconut Milk: Another delectable dish served during our last dinner in Twin Rock Beach resort. Ginataang alimango is a classic preparation for crabs, where the crabs are cooked in gata (coconut milk) with malunggay leaves. A must-try!
Group photo op with other media people and tourism staff of “The Last Supper” in Twin Rock Beach Resort. Photo by Brian Blas.
WHERE TO EAT IN CATANDUANES:
- Majestics Beach Resort, Puraran, Baras
- Puting Baybay Beach Resort, Puraran, Baras
- Twin Rock Beach Resort, Igang, Virac
- Kemji Resort and Resto, San Isidro Village, Virac
- Blossoms Restaurant, Rizal Avenue, Sta. Cruz, Virac
- Virac Food Haus, M. Arcilla Street, Sta. Elena, Virac
- Sea Breeze Restaurant, Pier Site, PPA Bldg., Salvacion, Virac
- Hotplates, G/F Rakdell Inn, San Pedro, Virac Catanduanes
- Chef de Leoj, G/F Midtown Inn, Salvacion, Virac
- S.O.G. Bar and Resto, Sta. Elena, Virac
Source: Catandungan Homepage Magazine. Provincial Government of Catanduanes. 2009. Visit www.catanduanes.gov.ph