Philippines pork recipe: Pork belly Bicol express with cucumber achara

Adam Liaw
Adam Liaw recipe : Bicol Express (spicy pork stew).
Adam Liaw recipe : Bicol Express (spicy pork stew). 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.Allow Adam Liaw to introduce you with a classic spicy stew topped with some piquant pickled vegetables.


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 below)

For Cucumber Achara (prepare this first)

These simple and fresh pickled vegetables are usually made with green papaya in the Philippines, but cucumber is a great substitute. Start this recipe the night before you plan to eat it.

2 continental cucumbers, peeled, deseeded and julienned

1 small carrot, peeled and julienned

​ 1 small red capsicum, peeled and julienned

​ 2 tbsp salt

4cm ginger, peeled and julienned

​ 2 eschallots, finely sliced

1 cup white vinegar

80g sugar


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

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

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

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.

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

For Cucumber Achara

Toss the cucumber, carrot and capsicum with the salt and place in a sieve. Allow to drain for 15 minutes. Rinse well under running water and drain again.

Toss with the ginger and eschallots and place in a plastic container.

In a small non-reactive saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar and 1 cup of water to a simmer, then pour over the vegetable mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight before serving

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.

Note: This spicy 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.