Bicol Express (Pork Belly in Spicy Coconut Sauce)

Bicol Express is a spicy Filipino stew of sliced pork belly cooked in coconut cream, shrimp paste, and tons of chilies.
2–3 servings
Prep Time
10 Mins
Active Time
1 Hr 30 Mins

Bicol Express is a spicy Filipino stew made with two signature ingredients of Bicol cuisine: fiery-hot chilies and creamy coconut milk.

Cely Kalaw, the restauranteur widely credited for inventing and popularizing the dish, named it after the old railway connecting Manila and Albay.

The origin of the dish itself is not as clear-cut. Some say that Bicol Express started as a milder offshoot of Kalaw's signature (and spicier) laing. Others claim that Kalaw adapted Bicol's gulay na lada or ginataang sili by adding pork. It could also be sinilihan, an existing Bicolano dish, repackaged with a catchier name.

Who knows? All we're sure of is you're gonna need an extra cup of rice. Even without the pork belly, the rich coconut gravy alone can serve as ulam.

What do you need to make Bicol Express?

Every Bicol Express needs five main ingredients:

  • pork belly
  • coconut milk
  • coconut cream
  • lots of chilies
  • bagoong

Depending on the household, the specifics of these ingredients can change: coconut cream versus milk, green versus red chilies, bagoong guisado or alamang, ground pork versus pork belly, and so on.

This recipe gives you a solid Bicol Express to enjoy as is, or to fine-tune to your liking. Some like to use cooked pork or chicken giniling as garnish!

If you're looking for sinilihan, AKA traditional Bicol Express, we have a whole recipe for that here.

Pork Belly

Pork belly has a good balance of fat and meat, of flavor and tenderness. Some recipes use ground pork, but we like pork belly better.

For this recipe, we slice the pork belly into small pieces that are ½- to 1-inch wide, and ½- to 1-inch thick. A bit of bone is OK.

Coconut Milk and Cream

The coconut milk is for simmering the pork and aromatics, creating the base of the sauce. The coconut cream comes in after the first reduction.

Canned or boxed coconut milk and cream will do you good. If you can get fresh coconut cream, even better! Any coconut-forward dish like this one can benefit from naturally sweet and fresh-tasting coconut.

Lots of Chilies

There's probably a law in Bicol somewhere that says: Bicol Express must set your butt on fire. This recipe abides by using both siling labuyo (red chilies) and siling haba (green chilies). Make sure to save the chili seeds—that's where all the heat comes from!


The bagoong you use will affect the flavor profile of your Bicol Express:

  • Sweet bottled bagoong, like the one from Barrio Fiesta, will impart nice caramel notes.
  • Regular bottled bagoong will result in a more neutral flavor.
  • Fresh alamang or balaw starts out very salty. To prep it, you need to squeeze out the brine with your hands. You'll get a mildly shrimpy, just-right fishy flavor after.


  • 500g pork belly, sliced into ½- to 1-inch thick pieces
  • 3 tbsp finely diced red onion
  • 1 ½ tbsp finely minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1–3 tbsp sliced red chilis, ½- to 1-thick pieces, with seeds
  • ¼ cup bagoong or shrimp paste
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup canned coconut cream
  • 2 green chilies (siling haba), sliced diagonally

Sear pork belly: Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium heat. Add sliced pork belly in a single layer. Sear and cook until golden brown. Remove pork and set aside, leaving the rendered fat in the pan.


Cook aromatics & bagoong: In the same pan, sauté red onions, garlic, ginger, and red chilies in the excess fat, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add bagoong. Continue to sauté, 1 minute. Add cooked pork belly back into the pan, stirring to coat.


Make coconut sauce: Add coconut milk and water to the pan. Stir until fully incorporated. Once mixture is boiling, reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Cook until pork is tender and the fat begins to separate, about 40–45 minutes. The sauce should reduce to about 80%. Add coconut cream and continue to simmer for another 15–20 minutes, until pork is fully tender and sauce is thick and creamy. Garnish with green chilies and serve with hot rice.


Selina: "The thickness of the sauce is a personal preference. Some like to eat it thick and creamy. Some want to reduce the coconut cream all the way until the fat separates and reduces. There are no wrong answers."

Substitutions & FAQs

This recipe was first published in 2020. It has been updated with grocery-friendly ingredients and a new procedure in 2024.

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