Margaux Salcedo | First Class, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inquirer Business, 19 September 2021

Margaux Salcedo | First Class | Inquirer Business | 19 September 2021 Sunday


Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. A big, loud Happy Fiesta to all Bikolanos and devotees!

Technically, we can travel to Naga today, which is now under general community quarantine (GCQ), to celebrate with Bikolanos because it was announced that from September 16 to 30, with Metro Manila under GCQ, leisure travel from Metro Manila to areas under GCQ and modified GCQ would be allowed, subject to local government guidelines. But, given it is only point-to-point travel, you may be stuck in just your hotel upon arrival and miss the festivities anyway. So we will just celebrate the fiesta vicariously through food and prayers!


Our Lady of Peñafrancia is the patroness of Bicol, endearingly referred to by her local devotees as Ina (Mother).
Her original image is in Spain, at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peña de Francia, located on the Peña de Francia mountain in Salamanca. It is reportedly the world’s highest Marian sanctuary.

Our Lady of Peñafrancia

Its origins are unknown but in the 1400s, Simon Vela, a Parisian from a well-to-do family who gave up his inheritance to become a chamber boy in the convent of the Franciscans in Paris, journeyed to the distant and steep mountains of Peña de Francia in Salamanca after hearing instructions from the Blessed Virgin herself in a dream: “Go to Peña de Francia west of this country, and there you will find the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary”.

He embarked on the journey and, upon finding the location, contracted men from the nearby town of San Martin del Castañar to assist him, and with them found, on May 19, 1434, embedded among the rocks, the most coveted image of the Holy Virgin with the Child in her arms.

Then in 1712, a Spanish officer from Peña de Francia arrived in Cavite. His son, Miguel Robles de Covarrubias, studied as a seminarian at the University of Sto. Tomas. While he was a seminarian, he became seriously ill and prayed for healing through the intercession of Our Lady of Peña de Francia, clutching a photograph of her image and vowing to construct a chapel if cured. He was cured and even became a priest, was ordained in Naga, then called Ciudad de Nueva Caceres, and there fulfilled his promise to Our Lady. He also asked a local sculptor to carve an image patterned after the photo he had of Our Lady of Peña de Francia which he clutched while sick. After reports of many miracles, on September 20, 1924, Pope Pius XI granted the image a canonical coronation. This image may be found today at the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga.

Peñafrancia Festival

The Peñafrancia Festival is a huge celebration in Bicol, with millions of devotees and tourists alike participating. It has extended beyond religion to become a true celebration of life for Bikolanos of all faiths, with concerts, parades, triathlons, etc. It has also been acknowledged to be the largest annual Marian pilgrimage in Asia.

This year, though, due to the pandemic, the festivities will be more solemn than festive, with online masses instead. Of course, when there is a fiesta, there must be an abundance of food. So since we can’t travel, let’s do the next best thing and join in the fiesta today by cooking some of these famous Bicolano dishes even as we stay home:

Tinutungang Manok. This is my personal favorite of all Bikolano dishes. On a trip to Albay, I got to watch Colonial Grill’s Chef Jeric Llandelar make this and he explained that the coconut meat (sapal) is cooked in a cauldron until it is toasted or resembles ‘tutong’ (burnt rice). He advised to make sure that it is not burned black or it will be bitter instead of smokey. Once toasted, water is added to make gata or coconut soup. This becomes the Tinutungang Gata, which creates the cream for the stew. The unique thing about this is that it has a smokey flavor. This is then added to the chicken then served with slices of either green papaya or green saba bananas. A truly elegant dish even if I first tried it at the very casual 1st Colonial Grill.

Adobo sa Gata. The quintessential Pinoy dish but with a Bikolano twist! The Bikolano version uses coconut milk and siling labuyo. You simple braise the meat in the traditional adobo marinade but finish off with coconut milk. The result is a creamier adobo with a spicy bite. Quite festive!

The glorious Mt. Mayon and Bicol delicacies: Tinutungang Manok, Kandingga (Bopis), Kinunot na Pagi, Pinangat, Gulay na Dahon ng Kamoteng Kahoy.

Laing. In some areas, this is called Pinangat na Gabi. The original Bikolano version of this does not use shredded but a whole taro leaf, called natong by some. A mixture of pre-cooked cubed pork, shrimp, or fish flakes, plus crushed chili (siling labuyo), shallots, ginger, and shrimp paste (bagoong alamang) is wrapped in the taro leaf and tied with lemongrass (tanglad). It is then steamed in coconut milk until the leaf pouches are fork tender and the gata is reduced to a thick sauce. Now, though, we are more used to the shredded gabi version, so that will work for today’s festivities, too!

Ginataang Dahon ng Kamoteng Kahoy or Young Yuka Leaves in Coconut Milk. This is a fairly simple vegetable dish, though one may add pork belly or tinapa, that involves, yet again, just cooking the ingredients in coconut milk and adding siling labuyo. This would be perfect with steaming hot white rice.

Kinunot na Pagi or Spicy Stingray in Coconut Milk. This is really just a fish coconut stew but if you don’t know how to clean the stingray well, leave it to the professionals or it may have a stench. But otherwise, it is a true delicacy!

Sili Ice Cream. When one visits Bicol, you can’t leave without trying the Sili Ice Cream. As usual, it has coconut milk and – yes, even in ice cream – siling labuyo. What an experience. At first bite, you think it is regular ice cream then two second later, the chili creeps in to surprise if not shock you.

There are so many more Bikolano dishes, they won’t fit on this page. Perhaps with the guidance of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, you will find them! If Simon Vela found the buried image of Our Lady in the distant terrains of Peña de Francia, on the side of an uninhabited mountain, I’m sure you can easily find a Bikolano recipe to your liking to celebrate and honor Ina with devotees and Bikolanos!

Happy Fiesta once again to everyone in Bicol and to all Bikolanos around the world. May our faith in the Lord, strengthened by our devotion to Ina, get us through this pandemic. While we can’t gather in person today, we certainly will have the Peñefrancia Festival once again – hopefully next year!

In the meantime, we celebrate life and all blessings, big or small, everyday! Dios Mabalos!