When Rica Dakudao Buenaflor left her life in Las Vegas to move to her husband’s hometown in Camarines Sur in 2001, she had no idea that she would one day become one of Bicol’s most ardent champions. Camarines Sur belongs to the Bicol region in southeast Luzon and is one of its six provinces. Known for its agricultural produce of rice, coconuts and abaca, it is also home to Mayon Volcano, dive areas like Donsol – where whale sharks can be spotted between November and June – as well as caves and archaeological sites.
What not many outside the region know, however, is that the province also boasts a rich and diverse culinary scene. Popular Bicolano dishes include laing, taro leaves cooked in coconut milk that’s been seasoned with lemongrass and chili, as well as sinantolan, grated santol (cotton fruit) rinds with shrimp paste.
This oversight is what prompted Buenaflor, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to start the three-day Best of Bicol Food Tour. It was launched in 2019 and runs based on bookings for groups with at least 10 people, but it has been temporarily put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There’s just so much about the region to be discovered and showcased, and this is also an opportunity to work with local communities and create livelihoods,” Buenaflor says. “We have a coordinator who leads the tour and local chefs conducting food demonstrations. The cities are also tapped to assist in our market tours, and a hotelier in Sorsogon personally hosts the guests. It really is, in the truest sense, a community effort to showcase our region.”
The tour only covers three cities: Naga, Legazpi and Sorsogon. Activities include observing how farmers harvest nuts from tall pili trees, as well as diving for fresh sea grapes and oysters in the sea.