This Restaurant Is Spicing Up Bicol Culture With Sili Ice Cream And More!
Gari Sy Rivera | October 11, 2019
Photos by the Author
Tourists who visit the Bicol region, whether it be in Legazpi or Naga, find the time to go to a 1st Colonial Grill branch. “1st Colonial Grill exists hindi lang para magkalaman ng pagkain sa tiyan, we also offer an experience,” shares area supervisor Maria “Jing” Muñoz, “Especially pag sili ice cream, nako, experience yan ng panghabang-buhay.” (“1st Colonial Grill exists not only to fill stomachs, we also offer experience. Especially when it comes to our Sili Ice Cream, it’s an experience of a lifetime.”)
For the uninitiated, their famous Sili Ice Cream has four of its levels of spiciness, with the 4th level called “volcano.” The first mouthful gives a hint of spice on your palate. As the flavor sinks in, you suddenly realize that it is the chili peppers behind the sensation. Naturally, it gets spicier the more spoons of it you take in, but not to the extent of needing to grab the nearest glass of refreshment. Considering some people’s tolerance of spice, each cup comes with a shot glass filled with milk to help cool down the heat.
[related: In Naga City, A Whole Food Vegan Mecca]
The concept of spicy ice cream came in a dream by Weng Aspe, who co-founded the restaurant with her husband, Bong in 2004. Understandably, doubts and questions regarding a hot sensation mixing with a cold treat were present at the beginning, but as their radical idea grew in popularity, so did its great appreciation. Today, their creamery menu features a “Flavors of Bicol” collection showcasing each province’s specialty ingredient as an ice cream flavor: Sili for Albay, Carmelado for Masbate, Latik for Catanduanes, Cacao for Camarines Sur, Pinya for Camarines Norte, and Pili for Sorsogon.
Beyond their celebrated ice cream flavors, 1st Colonial Grill shines a light on the importance of promoting and supporting what’s locally produced, having a mindset of promoting Bicolano culture and products. “Gumawa tayo ng sariling atin, na kikilalanin tayo doon at nakakaiba,” shares the brand’s area supervisor Jing Munoz, “Nakakaiba pero pwede makipagsabayan.” (“Let’s make something of our own, something different that we could be known for. Something different yet could be at par.”)
As such, other menu items highlight regional ingredients such as gata (coconut milk), sili (chili peppers), and pili nuts. Tinutungang Manok, a known Bicolano dish, showcases the creamy combination of gata, sili, tanglad (lemongrass), and chicken. The Bahay Kubo salad mixes locally produced vegetables, specifically those sung in the traditional Filipino folk song: sigarilyas, mani, sitaw, patani, even interpreting the lyric “sa paligid ay puno ng linga,” (the surroundings are filled with sesame) by sprinkling sesame seeds on top and around the edges of the dish! The restaurant crew even sings the song as they serve it, encouraging all other customers to sing and clap along with their tambourines.
“1st colonial grill doesn’t only exist to profit, it also shares its blessings,” Jing relates, adding that the restaurant chain serves the purpose of benefitting different communities. Apart from sourcing all their ingredients from local farmers, they have a foundation for scholars, annual medical missions, and an external kitchen through which they feed the public for free daily at the Albay Cathedral.
1st Colonial Grill today has branches across the Bicol region, mainly in Albay. A Metro Manila branch is also open at the Ninoy International Airport Terminal 3.