29 Apr2012

The original objective was a meaty, spicy and creamy bowl of bicol express. :) But one critical assumption was dead wrong, and it reminds me to taste, taste and taste again rather than relying solely on the word of a market vendor. I purchased a lot of incredibly fresh siling mahaba or finger chilies at the FTI market earlier today. From another vendor who specializes in Ilocano produce, I bought a huge hand full of smaller dark green chilies, which she volunteered were NOT SPICY at all. I said “are you sure?” and she said, “milder than the chilies I had just purchased at the next stall”. Yeah, right. :)

Back at home, we removed the piths and seeds of 3/4 of the siling mahaba, and chopped up all the “milder chilies” with seeds and all. One of the crew looked at me funny and said the little green chilies were SPICY but I wasn’t that alarmed, confident the Ilocana knew what she was talking about. As a precaution, I set aside almost half of the small chilies, and removed the seeds from all of the siling mahaba. Sauteed some ginger in a tablespoon of lard, added about 250 grams of pork belly, sliced into small pieces, and sauteed for a few minutes. Added some chopped garlic, then a few minutes later some coconut cream/milk. The chilies went in next, and then two tablespoons of bagoong alamang or shrimp paste. Stirred and let this simmer for 5-8 minutes and added a touch of salt. Tasted it with a teaspoon and my head nearly exploded like a New Year’s eve firework. It was so darned spicy it cleared my sinuses in milliseconds. Much more incendiary than most people can handle. So I was facing absolute disaster if I couldn’t remedy this.

Looking around the kitchen, I noticed two small bunches of sigarilyas or winged beans that I had also purchased at the market, and lots of Gejo’s tomatoes from this delivery. So we washed the sigarilyas, chopped them quickly and added them to the pot. I also added in a handful of tomatoes for color and bulk, and a half a can of coconut cream to add sweetness and dilute the spice. Two tablespoons of sugar was also added to try and counter the spice. A few minutes later we took it off the flames and I dipped a spoon to taste it. Nice! Disaster avoided. It was still very spicy, so most of us at lunch ate the veggies and meat, but avoided the creamy thick sauce laden with capsaicin. It would have been a lot nicer with half the spicy chilies, but at least we didn’t have to throw the food out. The tomatoes added color and texture, but that’s about it… put them in if you like, but they are by no means essential

The slight crunchy/chewy texture of the sigarilyas worked really well in the coconut based stew of sorts. Will definitely be making this again, but a lot less fiery chilies. You will need a lot of rice to finish this bowl of bicol express gone wild. I suppose this is one way to create new recipes, out of unintended mistakes. :)



  1. betty q. says:

    I thought that the smaller the chili, the hotter it is!

    Oh, my, MM…I cannot believe you fell for her response! Unless he is a relative of Gejo, I tend not to believe whatever any vendor would say! Maybe she is someone who can tolerate the hottest chili and still say it is milder!

    Apr 29, 2012 | 5:36 am


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  3. Betchay says:

    I also had a disastrous experience like that when I first made Beef Rendang….I followed the recipe religiously and it was so spicy hot!…smoke were coming from my ears!… I had to put more sugar to counteract the spicyness for it to be edible…learned my lesson…from then on, any recipe that calls for spicy chilies I always proceed with caution….taste,taste,taste! ;)

    Apr 29, 2012 | 7:12 am

  4. Roddy says:

    I guess spiciness is relative….and a comment from a G.I. (Genuine Ilocano) should probably be taken with a grain of salt (or sugar…or gata…or tomatoes).

    I remember having a dish in Crescent Moon, Antipolo of sigarilyas with gata and calamamsi which I thought was absolutely fantastic.,

    Apr 29, 2012 | 7:12 am

  5. Botchok says:

    MM, typo *capsaicin. I love Bicol express!

    Apr 29, 2012 | 7:14 am

  6. Marketman says:

    Botchok, thanks for that, edited. Bettyq, actually, in Cebu they have similar smaller darker green chilies and often they have no bite as well. Perhaps the really hot weather is ramping up the spiciness quotient… who knows? It’s the day after now and my stomach survived the chilies, so all is well… :)

    Apr 29, 2012 | 7:37 am

  7. Eileen C says:

    You are a food McGyver, MM…… Or should I say Bond….a Food James Bond

    Apr 29, 2012 | 8:08 am

  8. PITS, MANILA says:

    I found out that … when asking a Bicolano about the level of “anghang” … they would smile and reply with, “okay lang ang anghang nyan.” … what is ok with them is not usually okay with the Ilocano and the Kapangpangan. Something like the Thai level of “anghang”. They have “hot” and “not hot”. And their “not hot” is not at all appreciated by many. This doesn’t pose a problem for us here at home where almost everything has to be “very hot” … I look at your photo and am now hungry, wondering just how “hot” your dish is.

    Apr 29, 2012 | 8:18 am

  9. Mimi says:

    ‘Paropagolong’ Well, I think that’s how it is spelled in Bicolnon. That is what spicy sigarilyas in gata is called. Married to a Bicolano and his ‘not spicy’ is equivalent to super spicy to me! Maybe the vendor’s spicy-meter is different from yours. When my husband cooks he now sets aside a bowl with no sili for kids and then adds his sili, so the chilies are added after the dish is almost done.

    Apr 29, 2012 | 8:21 am

  10. fabulosa says:

    yumyum!!!! :)

    Apr 29, 2012 | 8:45 am

  11. louinsanfran says:

    i’ve seen ilocanos munch on red hot sili like they were peanuts.

    Apr 29, 2012 | 8:56 am

  12. Mari of NY says:

    I watched Jacques Pepin in one of his TV shows and he says to take a small bite of the chili so you’d know if they were really spicy or not.

    Apr 29, 2012 | 10:31 am

  13. Dragon says:

    As stated above, spiciness/heat IS relative. I, personally, love very, very spicy (Thai – local – spicy is goooood!). Living amongst people who think that adding 1 mild chili is already very spicy, I have to pinch a small bit or bite a chili before I purchase. I’ve had the hot Italian peppers make me go *BLINK* – where’s the heat?

    I, too, made my stash of very spicy Bicol Express weeks ago, divided into small containers (1 or 2 servings per) and frozen. If I feel the need to stimulate my senses, out they come.

    The other thing you could have done, MM is recreate the Bicol Express sauce and strain the meat out of the spicy one. Adding the gata would have tempered that indeed (cream = cooling effect).

    Apr 29, 2012 | 12:01 pm

  14. EJ says:

    Hi, MM, had Sigarilyas Express at Kanin Club in Ayala Triangle during my last trip to Manila. Very tasty with just the right level of spiciness by my standards ;-) and would recommend it. (Am not connected to Kanin Club in any way.)

    Apr 29, 2012 | 6:52 pm

  15. Footloose says:

    A good rule of thumb, this biting a bit to tell how hot the chili is. But you simply do not do that with Jamaican scotch bonnet, Mexican habanero or, heaven forbid, Trinidad scorpion. In the subcontinent, you do not do that ever for the same reason Eskimos do not eat yellow snow.

    Apr 29, 2012 | 7:25 pm

  16. rosedmd says:

    ilocano chili is not that spicy…..pahaba din sya and berde. even with the seeds no anghang! mas payat lang sila. ilocanos cook it adobo and eat it as veggies.

    Apr 29, 2012 | 11:59 pm

  17. denise says:

    Footloose..you forgot Ghost Chili :)

    I don’t generally like spicy food…so my roommate has to add sili to her food when she’s about to eat them so I don’t have to suffer…I’ve tried Beef Rendang and another Indonesian dish(it was very thinly sliced tripe in coconut milk) from an authentic little Indonesian joint (almost a hole in the wall) here in Dubai…and even though I was sweating buckets…I really liked it because it wasn’t the only flavor in the dish

    Apr 30, 2012 | 4:52 am

  18. Marketman says:

    rosemd, those were the silis I used, and while a lot of them, they were FAR SPICIER than I thought they should be… :) We have a similiar chili in Cebu, and they aren’t that SPICY EITHER.

    We have lived in Indonesia for several years, had a Korean roommate and love Thai food, so when I say the dish was spicy it was REALLY spicy. :)

    Apr 30, 2012 | 6:01 am

  19. josephine says:

    I think you just invented the Bicol Bullet Train…

    Apr 30, 2012 | 8:51 am

  20. red says:

    hi, marketman. spice addicts in bicol don’t really cook bicol express with finger chilies. we use the small ones, the redder the better. green ones are immature and not spicy at all. another thing, finger chilies leave a slightly bitter after taste, unlike the small ones which are faintly sweet, believe it or not.

    Apr 30, 2012 | 10:36 am

  21. Marketman says:

    Hi Red, yes, I understand some use the small chilies, but on my last trip to Bicol, I ordered four different Bicol Expresses and none of them used labuyo as the main chili ingredient, and the dishes weren’t that incendiary, either. :)

    Apr 30, 2012 | 10:52 am

  22. Gej says:

    Hi MM. I was actually writing a comment referring to your very informative and intriguing previous take on Bicol Express (which was erased when my daughter got on the computer!) when you sent your most recent comment. I always thought of Bicol Express (as somehow suggested by the name) as a dish that brings one, in a flash (faster than the Bicol Express train in fact), to the heart of Bikolandia with one smouldering bite. Sayang if , like in your previous trip to Bicol, MM, Bicol restaurants would themselves ease on the spiciness (like what many Thai restaurants are doing in Metro Manila). As the saying goes – “magpakatotoo ka!” – be true to yourself! Bicol = hot and spicy.

    Sigarilyas is quite a veggie too- I love the crunchiness of winged bean. I read somewhere too that sigarilyas is one of the most nutritious among the bean varieties.

    Ha ha betty q, would you believe I sold life insurance before?

    Apr 30, 2012 | 11:31 am

  23. kalayo says:

    you have to remember that the bikol express you’re all discussing about is the tourist version of what a bikolano would call gulay na lada (or sili, depending on the regional variation). The sili is the actual star of the dish, pork, alamang, etc. just mere footnotes (for texture I suppose). There’s more to the lowly sili than just the spiciness..

    May 2, 2012 | 5:00 pm

  24. jheng says:

    hi MM! i also had a similar experience. our neighbor gave us innocent looking long green siling haba. my mom, knowing how i love anything with gata, immediately cooked bicol express. thing is, she couldn’t taste test it because she was under treatment. whoa, it was so good but was SO HOT to the point that my stomach died a million times that week. my sister told me to simply throw it away but i couldn’t. i simply didnt have the heart to do it so i end up adding cream, sugar, sitaw everytime i heat it. oh, i lost weight. haha.

    May 3, 2012 | 2:15 pm

  25. Amy P says:

    I love sigarilyas AND spicy food, so this is definitely a must try recipe for me. As for the Bicol Express, I hardly recognize the more recent incarnations of this dish. My dad is from Bicol, and his family’s recipe for Bicol Express uses diced ‘kulit’ (carabao skin), kidney beans, and a whole lot of sili slow cooked in coconut milk until it’s reduced to having minimal sauce. Of course, with so many families and tastes, I can see how it has evolved with many variations just like the adobo ^_^. It’s all yummy to me!

    Aug 31, 2013 | 2:56 am


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