|Guinataang Calabaza or Bicol Express (with pumpkin)|
Bicolano’s have been well known for their fiery obsession for centuries. They often use scalding-hot peppers as a main ingredient in most if not all of their vegetable dishes especially in the first district of Albay. Bicol Express is a very popular dish originated from Bicol, but oddly enough in Bicol from what I read, they don’t even call it Bicol Express. So the dish itself did originate from Bicol, but not the name. They say that this dish evolved from another dish called “gulay na kalabasa.” I also read that the reason they call this Bicol Express is that it makes you run for water like an express train as soon as you put it in your mouth. Whether this is how they got the name or not, I don’t know.
What I can tell you for sure is that this stuff is very good and thanks to the Bicolano’s for coming up with it. Bicol Express nowadays has so many variations that just about everyone that has cooked this dish had modified it to their own personal preference. They have to accommodate their level of obsession when it comes to scalding-hot peppers. I have looked at several recipes online about Bicol Express before coming up with my own recipe. Even though this is not the authentic Bicol Express, it’s still very good and it will not put you in a coma, but in order for me to use the original name it does have to have a certain degree of hotness.
My version of Bicol Express does not use scalding-hot peppers as a main ingredient, instead I used it as a secondary ingredient. I love hot peppers, but unfortunately my obsession with hot peppers does not quite measure up to the Bicolano’s, so mine is a milder version. Now let’s take a look at the recipe!
1 ½ Lbs. Pork belly cut in 1 in. cubes
1 Lb. Calabaza cut in 1 ½ in. cubes
1 Large ginger peeled & sliced thinly
2 Cans of Coconut milk 13.5 oz each
1 Large onion diced
4 Cloves of garlic peeled & smashed
1 Tsp. Ground black pepper
36 Pcs. Thai-peppers, stems removed
6 Finger peppers – Siling mahaba cut in ¼ in. pieces, discard stems
Corn oil for sautéing
Green Onions for garnish
Note: Thai, Birds Eye, and Siling Labuyo are the same
In a large pot heat 1 Tbs. of corn oil and sauté garlic until golden brown. Next add pork belly, season it with salt, and sauté it for 3 minutes on medium heat. Add onions and ginger root and let it cook for 2 minutes. Add coconut milk, ground black pepper, finger peppers, and Thai-peppers. Stir well and let it simmer for 25 minutes on medium low heat, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching. Then add calabaza and let it cook for ten minutes or until calabaza is tender. Adjust taste by adding salt & pepper if needed! Serve rice topped with Bicol Express & garnish with green onions. Enjoy & Feel the Heat!..
On this particular recipe I have my ginger root sliced in larger pieces so I can remove them before serving. However if you want to serve yours with ginger root you may so by slicing it in smaller pieces (julliene).
My final thoughts:
This is truly a magnificent dish. One piece of advice though is to only use as many chili peppers as you can handle. You can gradually increase the amount of chili peppers later on as you get used to the heat. As they say eating is one of life’s pleasures, taste and flavor are just as important to make sure you enjoy the food. That is why it is important that you do not exceed your own limit with chili peppers. You want to enjoy your food and not put yourself in severe pain.
When eating Bicol Express with the right amount of hotness to your liking you can truly enjoy this wonderful dish. You will immediately feel the heat as soon as you introduce it to your taste buds. The capsaicin from the chili peppers will trigger your brain to release endorphins which are a natural pain killer the human body produces. That’s when you get to the zone of enjoying one of life’s pleasure. Eating!…