Bicol Express (spicy Filipino-style pork belly stew)

Adam Liaw
Adam Liaw's Bicol Express (spicy pork stew) with cucumber achara.
Adam Liaw's Bicol Express (spicy pork stew) with cucumber achara. Photo: William Meppem

Unfamiliar with the food of the Philippines? It's worth getting to know. It's delicious, fast and easy to make and affordable – simple, home-cooked dishes that are small on effort but extra large on flavour. Start with this classic spicy stew and some piquant pickled vegetables. This pork and chilli stew originated in Manila in the 1960s but was named after the train that runs from Manila to the region of Bicol, which is famous for its spicy cuisine.


2 tsp vegetable oil

1kg pork belly, skin-on, cut into 2cm square pieces

1 medium brown onion, finely minced

6 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 tbsp shrimp paste (or ¼ cup fish sauce) - gluten-free if required

400ml coconut milk

400ml chicken stock (gluten-free if required) or water

5 large red chillies, cut on the diagonal into 1cm lengths

5 large green chillies, cut on the diagonal into 1cm lengths

coriander leaves, to serve

steamed rice, to serve

cucumber achara, to serve (see recipe)


1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the pork belly until lightly browned.

2. Add the onion and garlic and continue to fry until the onion is softened.

3. Add the shrimp paste or fish sauce, coconut milk and stock or water.

4. Simmer covered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the chillies (reserving a few slices for garnish) and simmer for a further 15-20 minutes, until the pork and chillies are tender.

5. Season with salt or extra fish sauce to taste, scatter a few coriander leaves on top, and serve with steamed rice and cucumber achara.

Adam's tip The key to good food in the Philippines is balance. When these two dishes are served together, the creamy, savoury spiciness of the Bicol Express is offset by the sweet and sour pickles. Check seasoning to make sure everything is working together.