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Review: Riding the Bicol Express! The Train That Became A Spicy Dish

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Bicol Express is one of those dishes that expats notice when presented with a Filipino menu. The name is distinctive and of course in English. Many might even know of the region of Bicol in the southern end of Luzon, famous for the perfect volcanic cone of Mount Mayon – and its spicy food!



Bicol Express! From Bicol to Manila – but is it a train or a delicious spicy dish?


The original “Bicol Express” was the name of the Manila-Bicol train, but it is also a Filipino favourite dish consisting of pork cooked in coconut milk and infused with chilies for its iconic hotness.


The culinary Bicol Express appeared in the 1960s in Malate in downtown Manila. It was invented by chef Cecilia Kalaw who grew up in Bicol and is based on the traditional “Bikolano” dish called “Gulay Na May Lada” or “vegetables with coconut milk”.



Mount Mayon’s perfect volcanic cone is the enduring symbol of Bicol region


Almost every Filipino eatery and even convenience stores offer Bicol Express. It has become a local favourite especially those that love hot and spicy food. Here’s how to cook it yourself:


Ingredients (serves 5-6 people):

  • 1 kilo pork (ideally with strips of  fat to add flavour)

  • 4-5 long green bell peppers

  • 3 red chillies or “siling labuyo” (or more to make your dish hotter)

  • 4 cloves of garlic

  • 1 sliced onion (onion and garlic usually go together in Filipino dishes)

  • half a cup of “bagoong” (fermented shrimp paste – easily available)

  • three cups of (ideally fresh) coconut milk



  1. marinate the green peppers in water with salt and set them aside

  2. sauté garlic and onion in cooking oil

  3. add the pork in the sauted garlic and onion and keep stirring until it is cooked

  4. add the bagoong (shrimp paste) and then cook for 1 minute

  5. add coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes or so

  6. then add the green peppers and red chilies

  7. add your preferred amount of salt

  8. serve with steamed rice and enjoy


Bicol Express by Solenn and Erwan Heussaff
Filipino-French model and actress Solenn and her chef brother Erwan Heussaff shares their own Bicol Express recipe.


“So Solenn and I are proud halfies and we love to eat Filipino food. It’s something we grew up and something we would never say no to. As i like to do with dishes, we took one of our favourite recipes, a Bicol Express and decided to put our own Heussaff twist to it. Increasing the heat of the dish as well as the variety of ingredients.”



And of course you can use tofu or eggplant or chicken and no bagoong for vegetarian or healthier non-pork versions.


Happy eating but don’t forget to buy a ticket!! Give it a go and add spice to your life!



Author: Rhett Kinneas  


Photo sources:

Train –

Dish –

Mayon –






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