My yaya Helen is Bicolana so Bicol express, laing, and other spicy dishes made with gata were a staple on our dining table. Fortunately, no matter how much spicy food with gata I was served, I never really got tired of it.

So when I went to Bicol for work a couple of years ago, I was really looking forward to sampling Bicolano food right in Bicol.

There was a fiesta when we were there so we hopped from one house to another, the homeowners offering us all sorts of dishes—all of them spicy and with gata. After visiting four houses and eating laing of various spicy levels, plus pork, chicken, and seafood swimming in coconut milk, I felt like I couldn’t take another bite.

The next day, we went to Camsur Watersports Complex, and I thought I would finally get a break from all the gata and sili. Boy, was I wrong. Because even their eggs benedict and pizza had laing! Of course, I just had to try them. They were very, very good, actually. The laing provided a fresh twist to the basic eggs benedict and pizza, but it wasn’t overpowering so the dishes didn’t end up tasting a bit weird.

Now I can’t wait to go to Bicol—and have more gintaang anything and everything.

I think I was a Bicolano in a past life.