(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


  • 1 lbs whole wheat fettuccini cooked according to package directions
  • Steamed white rice


  1. Saute ginger until fragrant on large sauté pan on medium-high heat for like 5 minutes.  Add garlic and onion and cook onion until is translucent
  2. Add the pork and cook until all sides are brown.
  3. Add coconut milk and water. Cover and let it cook for 20 minutes until pork is tender.
  4. Add shrimp paste, salt, pepper and sugar. Stir the mixture well. Lower the heat to medium.
  5. Add washed spinach and let it cook for another 20 minutes.
  6. Adjust seasoning according to your taste.


I usually split “laing” into 2 to come up with 2 separate dishes.  First half is just plain “laing” dish that can be eaten already with steamed rice and other half can be used as a sauce for pasta. This is smart way to break the monotony if you are used to cook in big batches like I do. Also, if you have tinapa at home, use it instead of canned smoked herring.




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