No hunger games in Naga: Go local

The day my friends and I were leaving Naga for Manila, I texted Mom to report briefly on the trip, knowing how worried she gets whenever I fly. "Mom, I think I'm Bicolana because I can't get enough of the food here. I remember how I've always loved Lola's kandinga (bopis in Tagalog, a spicy dish of beef lungs), and I just discovered I like every Bicolano dish there is."

Camarines Sur's Naga City, though physically like other urbanized areas in the country,
still stands out for its untainted provincial life. 
Though I didn't mention it anymore, I also recalled my unexplained fondness for pili tarts, made of the "rarest nuts in the world," as my native Bicolana companion Clarice boasted. Mom replied in a few seconds along the lines of: "Are you kidding? You are Bicolana. Your grandparents hail from there. And can you get me and your Lolo a jar of balaw?"

Thus began my short-lived quest for an alien delicacy, finding out afterward from a nearby stall that balaw is just what Tagalogs call Bicol Express, a fusion-type spicy stew. I was floored but pleased to learn I have Bicol roots. At the same time, with or without Bicolano blood, any Filipino must love Naga.

The historic Saint Francis Church, erected in 1578 in Nueva Caceres, is the first in Naga.
The central figure of Jesus Christ on the cross reaching out to the saint is a Franciscan trademark.
Besides the slow-paced city with a small town feel and the natural piety and warmth of its people, Naga is readily fascinating for its daring dishes. Food, after all, is the most obvious cultural encounter tarrying tourists on a work-related mission can get.

Red Platter can be found along Magsaysay Avenue, Naga City, CamSur.
Sorry for the low-res photos. Taken with cellphone camera.
Red Platter's Bicol Express and pinangat made from freshwater shrimp and taro leaves, topped with thick coconut milk.
The restaurant serves classic Asian dishes, and carries the best of Bicol, too.
Red Platter, with its artistic but homelike interiors, is a bit pricier than the average Naga restaurant, yet still cheaper than similar places in Manila. It's a family dining venue that's perfect for newbie taste buds who want to experience the best of Bicol cuisine.

Mainly serving traditional Filipino dishes with a twist, the resto also innovates in some of its offerings. Below is a creamy, uncanny Malunggay Cake at Php75.00 that looks exactly like the one pictured in the tabletop ad.

Malunggay (moringa oleifera) cake topped with white chocolate roll.
All photos by Camille Diola. Please cite Creative Commons license for use.