Around Bicol in 30 Plates – Day 2: Iriga City

After our action-packed day in Naga City, we checked out early and headed to Iriga City, with a stopover for breakfast at Bigg’s Pili in Camarines Sur. This branch is frequented by a lot of motorists because of its location along the National Highway.

Aside from a lot of retro-vintage road signs, the branch is decorated with memorabilia from American blockbusters and Hollywood hits. We started the day with a filling breakfast of Tocilog and fresh brewed coffee.

From here, we rode a van to Pecuaria Farm, the farm where Bigg’s bacon and pinangat are made. It’s a good thing we hiked uphill to the main house because waiting for us there were plates of smoked bacon, chorizo bits, laing (a vegetable dish made from dried taro or gabileaves and coconut milk) and pinangat (a blend of taro leaves, chili, meat and coconut milk wrapped in gabi leaves and tied securely with coconut leaf). Even though we were still full from breakfast, we couldn’t help but dig in again. The pinangat and laing were freshly made and really delicious!

At the farm, we got to chat with Niene Buenaflor, one of the three Bigg’s founders, who showed us around and told us a bit about the history and success story of the restaurant. I found it interesting that Niene, along with co-founders Nene Bichara and Maricar Manjon all share the same passion for food and travel, which has led to the development and continuous evolution of the best-selling recipes served in Bigg’s.

After the visit to the farm, we stopped by the Philtranco Heritage Museum, a structure that houses a collection of old photos and artifacts of the oldest transportation company in the country. Previously called ALATCO, Philtranco is the first bus company in the country, founded in 1914 by Albert L. Ammen. From an initial fleet of one auto-truck servicing Iriga-Naga, ALATCO became the principal carrier in the Bicol region, expanding to other towns of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Albay and Sorsogon.

To build up an appetite again for our next meal, we took a hike up 150+ steps to Inorogan Chapel. The chapel on the hill in Brgy. Sto Domingo, was built back in 1614. It was constructed in gratitude to the Almighty and the Virgin Mary for miraculously saving the town from Mt. Sumagang’s eruption.

Next up were quick stopovers at Lake Buhi, one of the few bodies of water that contains sinarapan (Mistichthys luzonensis), the world’s smallest commercially harvested fish, and the Church of Buhi, an old structure built close to the lake.

Then it was time for lunch at Bigg’s Iriga. On the menu was Creamy Cauliflower Soup, Tenderloin Tips with Baked Mashed Potatoes and decadent Kookie Monster Cake.

After lunch, we headed to Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga, the site of an old bell tower foregrounding Mayon Volcano, which is one of the most picturesque and most photographed locations in the country. The last time I was here, I drove a motorcycle from Naga to Legazpi for a day trip. I noticed a shop selling chili shakes and chili halo-halo, but didn’t get to try it, so I made sure to try it out this time. You can order different flavors from Jimaynah’s Snack House like buco, avocado, mango and chocolate shake (P45/each). The owners seem to blend the chili right into the shake instead of using chili oil, so this drink has a pretty spicy kick with bits of chili floating at the bottom.

We made another stop at Daraga Church, a national cultural treasure with walls made from hardened volcanic rock, and from where you can get a very scenic view of Mayon Volcano. Interestingly, there’s a restaurant on the right side of the church called Red Labuyo (which serves some Bicol specialties), which I never noticed before.

Our last stop for the day was Lignon Hill Nature Park, where you can try a lot of adventure activities like paintball, zipline and the canopy walk, which I got to try last year. Hiking up the steep 156-meter high hill is quite a workout, making it a popular destination for fitness buffs. Lignon Hill offers a panoramic 360 degree view of Legazpi City, Daraga and Albay Gulf.

After a long day, we checked into our rooms at The Oriental Hotel Legazpi. This elegant and modern hotel located at the top of Taysan Hill, Sto. Niño, has one of the best views of Mayon. Instead of heading out to Bigg’s Embaracdero as planned, the group decided to just stay in and enjoy the hotel with meals of Bigg’s fried chicken with crab and corn soup, pinangat, laing and delicious carrot cake conveniently delivered to our rooms, before turning in. Burp. 10 more plates to go!


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