(Chicago) – Many years ago, I participated in a mission trip, organized by my church in Manila, to a province in the Bicol region which is eastern part of the Philippines. I was so young then that I couldn’t remember the details of this trip but 2 things I can clearly recall still: the team was able to reach out effectively to the villagers so mission accomplished and the food served to us while we were there was stupendously good. All of the dishes from appetizer to dessert are coconut-based.  Little did I know back then, Bicol is famously known for its coconut.

Of all the coconut dishes, “laing” is my most favorite.  This vegetable dish originated from Bicol and is made up of taro leaves, coconut milk and pork. Taro (“gabi”) leaves is not readily available in the US or anywhere else outside the Philippines; although, I know some Asian stores now import shredded dried taro.  Even if you could find a taro plant in your garden or some swamp nearby, the original process of sun-drying the leaves and prepping it, is just plainly tedious and a big waste of time. For most of us with so little personal time but crave often for some Filipino food, the best and smartest option is to improvise. So instead of taro, I go for spinach; equally healthy and conveniently obtainable.


  • 1 can 400 ml (13.5 oz) coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 bags spinach (10 oz/bag)
  • 1 tablespoons shrimp paste (bagoong)
  • 1 small can of smoked herring or any fish, shredded
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