My recent trip to Bicol was long and sad, but it gave me a fresh look into Bicolano culture, economy and cuisine.
This entry zooms into the really great things I experienced while I was in Daet, bypassing my other Bicolandia stops in Sorsogon, Albay and Camarines Sur. Daet is the provincial capital of Camarines Norte, which can be reached via the legendary “bitukang manok.” With the construction of the Andaya Highway, Manila-Legaspi bus routes no longer traverse this infamous path, leaving bitukang manok territory with well-paved roads, forested mountain views and undercommercialized towns. There is no SM in Daet, which to me is an indication of a booming local economy and active local markets. These are the kinds of places I especially enjoy visiting.
The most memorable stuff for me in any trip is eating local specialties and shopping for local products. Here’s a list of some of the best things I discovered in Daet, Camarines Norte.
Kinunot. Kinunot refers to the shredded meat of pagi (sting ray) cooked in gata, luya slices and sili. Crab meat doesn’t come half as close to pagi meat. Extremely savory. Although I was told that shark meat is even better. And the environmentalist in me is guilty as hell wishing for a plate of endangered ray and shark meat. I wonder when I’ll have another taste.
Dried fish. At the seemingly abandoned upper section of the Daet public market lies the secret stalls of the vendors of the best dried fish in Daet. This place is famous for abu-abu, a kind of dried fish with whitish meat, and dried boneless dilis. As I left the stall I had with me a basketful of dried fish and tinapa which almost failed to survive the meat-less lenten season.
Alvino’s Grill. They serve brick-roasted chicken in this restaurant, and I need not say more. Alvino’s is a really nice restaurant, with high makeshift ceilings, subtle native decor, roasting ovens and all that good barbecue aroma welcomes you as you enter. It’s airy and has a huge seating capacity without being overcrowed. It’s not trying to be a classy restaurant, it has affordable food on its menu, it’s honest to goodness–I love it.
Buko sorbet. I was able to try the best sorbet ever from Alvino’s. It was so good I had to separate it from the rest of the Alvino text. It was the richest sorbet I’ve ever tasted. Very young coconut, probably with a little bit of coconut water, and a hint of sweetness. It was so smooth and almost creamy, you wouldn’t get brainfreeze eating it. So rich, it stopped being sorbet, maybe it’s ice cream.
Pilipit. Since Daet is in the northern part of Bicol, locals are almost Tagalog-speaking. And pilipit is basically a pinilipit or twisted snack. It’s a sweet, filling meryenda, very Filipino. It’s made of rice flour that’s been kneaded, rolled, twisted and fried. And then it’s topped with the best sweetener in the world–sagkaka or panutsa in the tagalog regions. It’s made from a concentrate of sugarcane extract, that’s raw-er than brown sugar. You usually buy it inside a bao (coconut shell), in a soft candy caramel texture. Then a small quantity is warmed up and drizzled over the fried pilipit. It’s heavenly. I would trade a plate of this for blueberry cheesecake any day.
I’ve always associated Bicol with our (Turo & my) favorite pinangat (mashed talangka, with fresh alamang, gata, luya, sili, wrapped in young gabi leaves and slow-cooked covered with more gata) and bicol express and gata and sili and gata and more sili. But now that I’ve covered nearly the entire Bicolandia, I am so amazed and impressed at the similarities and uniqueness that each province has over the other. That it’s not just gata and sili after all.