The Nestle Chef to Chef cooking demo took me to Naga City in Bicol province. It was my first time to go there.
I had heard so much about Bicolano cuisine and was looking forward to this visit. But due to some confusion in my schedule I had to rebook for a flight to Legaspi instead, before proceeding to Naga by land.
Upon landing in Legaspi I immediately saw Mayon Volcano, though it was covered in thick smoke that day.
The bus ride from Legaspi was uncomfortable, but Naga looked impressive. It was a lot more modern than I expected, with the trappings of commercial progress seen in Jollibee, McDonald’s, SM and other chain stores and restaurants.
Looking for ‘wow’ factor
Right across the hotel I stayed at were shops selling anything pili, the sugar-coated nuts that I love. I keep a stack of mazapan de pili made by The House of Pili. This candy hits the right spot.
For starters I dined at Bob Marlin, said to be one of Naga’s popular restaurants. Its Bicol Express, pinangat, laing and boneless crispy pata were all good, but I was still looking for the “wow” factor.
My food guide in Naga was East West bank manager and fellow foodie Chinky. She took me to a fairly new place called Casa Soriano, a house transformed into a restaurant with a nice garden.
We had salad, ribs, more pinangat and a few other dishes, which all tasted fine. Other dishes that stood out were the Singaporean chili crabs, very tender callos and kare-kare.
Heaven in every bite
But I was still looking for the essence in Bicolano food.
What I tasted next was heaven in every bite—a simple-looking stuffed roast chicken with a side dish of laing. My gosh! The chicken was moist, plump, had a slight crisp on the skin, a tinge of turmeric or curry on the stuffing and was really delicious.
It was perfect paired with the laing—deep-green minced gabi leaves with a hint of coconut milk. It was only slightly spicy and dry, which I actually preferred. With piping hot rice, I dreamt of this dish combination during my entire stay in Naga.
In fact, I kept going back to Casa Soriano in the three days that I was in Naga.
The dish, by the way, is called Auntie’s Chicken. It will make you think of your loved ones. It was so super sarap that I hand-carried two orders for my family to try—paired, of course, with laing.
Owner Aby and her husband are the creators of this treasure dish. Today I still dream about this best-tasting roast chicken.
I am not yet done with Naga. I still have to go back and hopefully discover more of its simple but yummy dishes.
I had a good taste of Bicol fare and I look forward to doing our TV show “Food Prints” there.
Casa Soriano is at 39 Concepcion Grande, Naga City; tel. (054) 8811749 or 0928-8933083
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