Hey, Do you know that our BICOL EXPRESS was “invented” by a Non-Bicolano?? According to documents I have gathered, this spicy concoction was invented by Ms. Cely Kalaw, who was born in Los Banos Laguna but spent her childhood days in Bicol particularly in Naga City. This spicy dish is "Tita Cely's" version of a long-standing Bicolano dish "GULAY NA LADA".
WHAT’S COOKING AT TITA CELY’S?
By LAI SUAREZ REYES --The Manila Bulletin Online
They say that a good cook doesn’t follow recipes...he invents them! Well, that’s if you have the talent, guts and the palate for good food the way Tita Cely does!
Regarded by food critics as the doyenne of Filipino cuisine, Cecilia "Tita Cely" Villanueva Kalaw set the Pinoy tastebuds on fire with her "invention"... a fiery dish popularly known as Bicol Express.
Contrary to popular belief, Bicol Express didn’t originate in Bicol. It was a labor of love of two siblings who shared a passion for all things spicy and yummy!
As the story goes, Tita Cely and her brother Demetrio "Kuya Etring" Kalaw had opened a hole-in-the-wall eatery on Oregon St., Malate, Manila, which they called "The Grove Luto ni Inay." This was way back in the 1960s.
There were only a few tables and chairs and no waiters but immediately the eatery was swamped with foodies hungry for good homecooking! This prompted Tita Cely and Kuya Etring to move to a bigger place on M.H. del Pilar St., in Ermita.
The Grove became famous for its buffet which offered 54 kinds of Filipino dishes. "I was the first one to put up a Filipino buffet. At that time, it only cost R7.50 per head. It was such a big hit! Over the years, the price of the buffet went to as high as R175/head," recalls Tita Cely.
Tita Cely’s regular customers included the late food writer and critic Doreen Fernandez, journalist Jullie Yap Daza and former senator Francisco Kit Tatad.These people just couldn’t have enough of Tita Cely’s laing, served quite spicy."But Doreen told me that some of our “sosyal” customers who wanted to eat laing, could not tolerate the chili in it. So, I told my brother Etring that we should come up with a tamer version of the dish," narrates Tita Cely. For customers who want their laing spicy, Tita Cely and Kuya Etring invented a dish similar to Bicol’s "gulay na lada" which they mixed with a less spicy laing.
"It’s actually a separate dish. One could either mix it with the laing or just add a bit of it (chili dish) according to one’s taste," explains Tita Cely. Once again, the siblings experimented in the kitchen with chopped siling haba and coconut milk. By now a kitchen pro, Tita Cely wielded her ladle like a witch concocting potions in a cauldron. In a snap, the chili dish was cooked!"So, I’ve invited Doreen and other friends for an intimate lunch to try our “new” laing. At that time, we didn’t have a name for the chili dish yet! Our house was located at the back of the restaurant along M.H. del Pilar, where the PNR train passes. It was 11:45 a.m., we only had 15 minutes left to think of a name before our guests arrived," Tita Cely continues. "Kuya Etring was taking a shower, while I was seated on the sofa. Suddenly, we heard the sound of the train and so I shouted: “Kuya Etring, biyaheng Bicol!” And he shouted back: “Cely, let’s call the dish “Bicol Express!” Well, the rest is history," Tita Cely laughed.
Tita Cely is not a Bicolana but she spent her childhood days in Bicol. Born in 1938 in Los Banos, Laguna, Tita Cely and her family moved to Naga City, when she was 3. Most probably, that’s the reason Tita Cely loves "luto sa gata" dishes. This is evident in the menu of her new food stall, "Tita Cely’s Sinigang Bar, Atbp." at the foodcourt of Market! Market! in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig.
Tita Cely graduated with a degree in agriculture from UPLB. But she’s more proud of the following "degrees" appended on her name: Cecila V. Kalaw, C.CS.P.S.
"C stands for CONCERN; CS stand for COMMON SENSE. P is for PRACTICAL while S stands for SYSTEMATIC. These words are synonymous to SUCCESS," Tita Cely says with a grin.
The Bicol Express
A savory and delicious dish made with succulent pork and coconut cream that will have you expressing how much you adore the taste!
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon garlic chopped
1/2 cup onions chopped
1/4 cup ginger fresh, chopped
2 tablespoons dilao fresh, (tumeric)
1 kg pork cooked and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 1/2 tablespoon hot chili peppers (siling labuyo, chopped)
1 1/2 cup bagoong alamang
6 cups coconut cream
2 cups hot green peppers fresh (elongated variety), sliced diagonally into 1/4 inch strips
1 1/2 cup sweet red peppers, fresh (elongated variety), sliced diagonally into 1/4 inch strips
Saute garlic in hot oil. Add onions and cook until translucent. Stir in fresh ginger, dilao, and the sliced cooked pork. Stir continually for 5 minutes. Add bagoong alamang and chopped hot chilli (siling labuyo). Stir until the pork is completely covered by the mixture. (about 15 minutes.) Pour in 6 cups of coconut cream and add the sliced hot green and red peppers. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes. Add salt if necessary.
Note: chillis and peppers to be added according to spiciness desired.