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Bicol Express with a Twist (Gulay na Santol)

Ma. Victoria Conde from Philippines

40 minutes
Cooks in
20 minutes
Country of origin

“Pabarasugan,” my town’s potluck version, holds a special memory of my childhood. To my young eyes, it was a special kind of play where everyone had a role. The older ones cooked and the younger ones helped do the chores. We were like family bonding over a shared “homemade” meal.

Gulay na santol was one of the meals we cooked during pabarasugan, especially in August its fruit-bearing season. It is like Bicol Express, a popular Bicol spicy dish with pork meat and alamang (tiny shrimp) cooked in coconut milk. The addition of the cottonfruit makes the difference.

We only had the wide open field for this activity, so we had to cook the nomadic way. We gathered three rocks (relatively equal in size) and dry tree branches to make fire. Once cooked, the rice and the viand were placed on a one whole clean banana leaf for us to consume using our hands.

Pabarasugan brought young adults, teens, and pre-teens in our neighborhood together. It was our way of hanging out and making memories. Going home with a happy tummy was a bonus.

Unfortunately, now it is a fading tradition.

PS I may not have learned the recipe from one of my travels. But as a newbie to this niche, please let me start with the most memorable culinary experience yet that I’ve had. They say travel begins in our backyard, right?


  • 2 big cottonfruit (santol)
  • 1 grated coconut and 1-1/2 cup of water
  • 4 red and white long chili pepper
  • 3/4 cup bagoong/alamang/shrimp paste (tiny shrimps)
  • 3/4 cup pork (boiled and sliced)
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 onion
  • pepper


  • Sauté garlic, onion, and pork.
  • Once it starts to smell good, add 1 cup of coconut milk.
  • Simmer before adding the fruit and wait until cooked.
  • Add sliced chili pepper and season to taste before removing the pan from the heat source.
  • To prepare the fruit meat: Chop into small pieces or grate it using a manual coconut grater.
  • Squeeze to remove its acrid taste.
  • To prepare the coconut milk: Grate the coconut using a manual grater.
  • Add the water into the grated coconut and squeeze using your hands to get the coconut milk.
  • Ready-made coconut milk can also be bought in markets.


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