Ibalong Festival Features Fiery Cuisine in Legazpeño Food Fiesta

“Come to Legazpi on Friday and share the taste that makes Legazpeños lucky enough with their favorite fiery cuisine of hot pepper that makes them healthy and jolly!”

This is the invitation announced here this early by City Mayor Noel Rosal so that local delicacy fanatics and those who want to experience its exoticism are able to prepare to be around during the city government’s holding of the food fiesta as part of this year’s celebration of Ibalong Festival.

The event dubbed “Siram na Sana (So delicious): A Legazpeño Food Festival” that will take place in the evening of Aug. 29 at the Casablanca Convention Hall here will specially feature the fiery Bicol Express that is most yearned for, owing to its stinging, flavorful punch, Rosal on Friday said.

This powerful concoction of indispensable ingredients associated with Bicol—chili and coconut milk -- is originally Bicolandia’s signature dish that is most famous among Legazpeños who make it more popular through some innovative way of preparations and serving, assuring that it embodies Bicolano cuisine just right.

Basically, Bicol Express is a very hot dish made of small bits of hog meat, balaw (fermented shrimps), coconut milk, garlic, onion, ginger and, of course, red and green chilies.

The simplicity of the ingredients makes it easy to prepare and keeps the meaty taste more distinct, unlike in other spicy recipes and from this, Legazpeños during the “Siram na Sana” food fiesta will present their own variations that make Bicol Express really addictive, Rosal said.

A staple item for this dish as prepared by Legazpeño chefs and ordinary household cooks remains "balaw" that gives its distinctive taste.

For the Bicolanos, any authentic Bicol Express would use only this add-on that is similar to shrimp paste but less salty.

“Here, what makes a difference for a great-tasting Bicol Express is the delicate balance of the spicy chili and the creamy coconut milk. We do not make chili the dominant flavor of the dish alone. It is always complemented by the coconut milk and the balaw,” Ismael Santillan, the chairman of the urban barangay of Sabang and who possesses the passion of cooking, said.

Santillan explained that the taste of Bicol Express, insofar as Legazpeños are concerned, has been expanded not just to pork strips but also to fish, chicken, squid and even smoked fish or basically any meat available.

There is even a Legazpi version that uses lechon baboy while some daring recipes skip the balaw and add something else instead -- such as Baguio beans, pineapple chunks, mango slices or squash for a really creamy concoction, he said.

“Indeed, there have been many versions of Bicol Express, with each one claiming to be the original, but one thing is for sure—it will make you crave for its spicy challenge and when you are ready for the heat, come here for the Siram na Sama fiesta on Aug. 29,” Rosal said.

And behind the common joke that the dish’s name refers to how fast one can run like the old popular Bicol Express train to the sink for a mouthwash to put off the blistering sensation it delivers, are nutrients and numerous therapeutic powers that Bicolanos and Legazpeños fortunately enjoy from this dish.

While people who for the first time tasted Bicol Express would claim that it is so hot their sinuses have been effectively cleared, the chili’s spicy kick goes more than that-- it has a slew of health benefits that compensate for the blistering wallop in one’s mouth.

Eating a lot of chili, particularly "siling labuyo" (Capsicum frutescens L.) or “sambalas,” as it is commonly called here, means more nutrient intake and therapeutic feats.

Several food studies have listed vitamins and mineral as nutrients that can be found in sambalas and these are nutrients value per 100-gram (g) sili serving are water, 86.0 g; protein, 1.9 g; fat, 1.9 g; carbohydrates, 9.2 g; iron, 1.2 milligram (mg); calcium, 14.4 mg; vitamin A, 700-21600 IU; and vitamin C, 242.0 mg.

The same studies found medicinal properties of hot pepper such as excellent promoter of ligaments, given that ingestion of fresh chili is believed to be wholesome for persons of phlegmatic temperament, being considered stimulating.

It is a powerful rubefacient, a medicine for external application that produces redness of the skin; relieves pain by counter-irritant effect; an effective gargle when mixed with vinegar; warm fomentation of both leaves and fruit applied for rheumatic pains; leaves can be used as dressing for wounds and sores; strong infusion of the fruit is applied as a lotion for ringworm of the scalp; and cures stomach pain, gout, dyspepsia and cholera.

Laboratory studies say siling labuyo contains capsaicin, a chemical compound that causes the burning sensation in the mouth.

With that hot and burning feeling, capsaicin triggers the brain to kick out flood of endorphins, a natural pain killer of the body that promotes sense of well being and stimulation.

Sambalas gives an amazing relief to arthritis and rheumatism and brings down blood sugar levels, lowers cholesterol, prevents blood clots, halts bleeding quickly, knocks out cold and flu miseries.

It also reduces risk of heart diseases and tuberculosis, apart from being an ulcer healer.

Currently, there are numerous of studies going on for the medicinal applications of siling labuyo since it is associated with therapeutic actions such as: aphrodisiac, diaphoretic, expectorant, neural stimulant, rubefacient, synergist vasomotor stimulant and topical vasodilator, among others.

Abroad, siling labuyo called [jalapeno chili pepper) has been found to possess the ability to drive prostate cancer cells to kill themselves.

Rosal added that after getting all these health benefits from the food fiesta on up to the wee hour of Friday night plus the merrymaking associated with it, visitors should stay overnight because on the next day will be the Ibalong Street Presentation—a half-day celebration of native music and dances along the city streets.

This presentation is the highlight of the Ibalong Festival, featuring eight contingents of colorfully dressed dancers who would depict the mythical heroes of Ibalong—Handyong, Bantong and Baltog -- based on the Bicol epic written by the late Prof. Merito Espinas.

Ibalong Festival, now in its 23rd year, is a yearly non-religious tourism promotion fiesta in this prime Bicol metropolis called the City of Fun and Adventure, depicting Bicolandia’s early beginnings and tells of mythical super heroes, villains, monsters and wild animals in the ancient times. (PNA)CTB/FGS/DOC/cbd/

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