If you worry about overindulging on holiday, fear not. Healthy eating is very much on the menu in the Philippines.
Like most South East Asian countries, rice, vegetables, fish and chicken are staple ingredients for most meals, but there are two added extras which set Filipino cuisine apart from all others; chilli (or ‘silli’) and liberal amounts of delicious coconut milk.
I headed to the Sea Dog Diner, Legazapi, to learn from the experts. Here, I met ‘Chef Jimmy’ who taught me how to cook two local dishes – Liang and Bicol Express.
As both dishes contain the famous coconut milk, we began by making this much-loved ingredient ourselves, gently squeezing coconut pulp in mineral water until the liquid became thick, like cream. This was then sieved and set aside.
It was then time to make the first dish of the day, Liang – an aromatic leafy dish with smoked fish and shrimps in a spicy coconut sauce. We began by ripping up Taro leaves (it’s important not to slice as cut edges will cause your throat to itch).
Once in the pot, you add the other ingredients – red onion, garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, smoked fish, salt and of course, the coconut milk – then, you just leave it to simmer. Easy! This was my kind of cooking.
Bicol Express is another one-pot wonder, made by sautéing pork, garlic and onion for ten minutes before adding shrimp paste, coconut milk and chilies.
They love their spicy food here (a legacy of the Indian and Spanish colonisation) so much, they’ve even created a delicious ‘Silli ice-cream’. A bright pink chill dessert, with a powerful after taste.
I wondered around the local food market and learnt about other specialties too, although I must admit to not trying them all.
I consider myself to be adventurous when it comes to trying new foods, but I wasn’t brave enough to taste ‘Balut’. This popular common street food is just like a boiled egg, except it contains a developed duck embryo.
My favourite was the local chocolate, tskokolate. With only two ingredients coco powder (25g) and sugar (35g), this is one intensely sweet treat. Delicious.