The Happy Home Cook: Bicol Express

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Bicol Express (Source:

Bicol Express (Source:

When Elmer D. Cruz and Emerson R. Rosales were detained for several years for their participation in the so-called “Oakwood mutiny” in 2003, they made use of their substantial free time and their love of food to compile recipes for pulutan, appetizers (for lack of a better English equivalent) that Filipinos eat with beer and other spirits during long-lasting drinking sessions. These two graduates of the Philippine Military Academy Class 2000, Navy ensigns when they were incarcerated, came out with a cookbook called Pulutan: From the Soldiers’ Kitchen, with 100 recipes that range from the popular to the esoteric (field mice, crickets, cow testicles among others) – all taste-tested, guaranteed to satisfy.

Here are two versions of a popular Bicolano dish:

Bicol Express I

Serves 4-6
Prep and cooking time: 50 minutes


2 cups siling haba (finger chili)
¾ kilo liempo (pork belly), sliced into small strips
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped onions
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup diagonally sliced Baguio (string) beans
½ cup siling labuyo (chili pepper)

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Marinate the siling haba in salted water for 30 minutes. Drain then chop. Set aside.
  2. Stir-fry the pork until golden brown. Set aside to one side of the pan.
  3. Add the garlic and onions and saute until cooked. Mix in the pork.
  4. Pour the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Add beans, siling haba and labuyo. Cook until the milk thickens. Season with salt and pepper.   
Bicol Express with Mussels (Source:

Bicol Express with Mussels (Source:

Bicol Express II

Serves 4-6
Prep and cooking time: 1 hour


10 pieces siling haba (finger chili)
20 pieces tahong (mussels)
½ kilo liempo (pork belly) cut into ½-inch cubes
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup kakang gata (coconut cream)
¼ kilo medium shrimps, cubed

Salt to taste

  1. Cut the siling haba in half, remove the seeds then chop. Soak in salted water for a few minutes then drain.
  2. Cook the mussels then remove meat from the shells. Set aside.
  3. Put the pork, garlic, onions and coconut milk in a saucepan. Simmer until almost dry.
  4. Add the coconut cream, shrimps and mussels. Simmer until almost dry.
  5. Add the finger chili and season to taste.

From Pulutan: From the Soldiers’ Kitchen by Elmer D. Cruz and Emerson R. Rosales. (Anvil Publishing 2007).