Traveling is null if you will not treat yourself with the local cuisine of your destination for dining local dishes is the best way to savor a certain place. Ilocos is also noted for their culinary treasures and I was excited for this new gastronomic indulgence that we will have for our trip to Ilocos Norte and Sur.
During my research, I only learned about the special Ilokano pinakbet and bagnet since most of the food are not just unfamiliar but hard to pronounce. Luckily, in Saramsam Cafe where we had our lunch, their menu includes descriptions of the local dishes like what a “dinagdakan” is.
For our first lunch in Ilocos, we chose Saramsam Cafe in Rizal Street of Loaog City. It was convenient for us since it is just a few meters away from where we stayed and it is under one management. I liked the ambiance of the cafe, it is casual, cozy and artistic. Aside from dishes, the cafe also sells items that travelers can bring back home. If only I wasn’t pregnant, I would have bought Basi wine.
For the locals, the place has the best pasta dishes in town but for travelers like us, it is a great stop for wonderful food in Ilocos.Of course, we ordered bagnet, dinagdakan, pinakbet and sinang-lao. I’m not sure about if it was really dinagdakan that we had, just correct me if I’m wrong.
The first thing, I noticed about their pinakbet is that is very “green”. Yeah, green. For us in the Visayas or even in Mindanao, we add a lot of squash in our pinakbet. The one we had in Ilocos, there is squash is totally absent but in Vigan, I saw one slice of squash. Dan, our guide said that there are many variants for pinakbet in Ilocos but they rarely use squash.
The pinakbet was really good and it was quite different from the one I often cook for my family. I’m not a fan of okra but I ate in in Ilocos. I was very intrigued with how they cooked it that I have to check it in YouTube. And there, I learned the trick from Bongbong Marcos who cooked the Ilocano pakbet in Lucy and Wilma’s show, “A Sweet Life”.
Of course, my most awaited bagnet which is a deep fried pork belly. It was not as fatty for me compared to other deep fried pork dishes like lechon kawali. And I like the sauce known as KBL was superb; short for Kamatis, Bagoong and Lasong ( young onion).
When we finished our tour at 8pm, we went to the town of San Nicholas, just outside Laoag City for empanada. The town of Batac is more famous for this delicacy but the empanada in San Nicholas was fine. The emapanada that I grew up with was rather small with those intricate shell-like dough stuffed with ground pork, pickles and raisins. In Ilocos, it was big! Really big that I failed to finish it.
The empanada in Ilocos is stuffed with longganisa, egg and other ingredients. For 30 pesos each, you can have your dinner. In that small side walk eatery we also had their all-lean meat pork barbeque with Ilocano vinegar. Now, I’m drooling…their vinegar is simply the best.
Again, I’m not a fan of condiments for my food contrary to most Filipinos who would dip their food in soy sauce, vinegar or their combination. Ilocano vinegar is sweet which caught my fancy, if only we were not travel by air I would have bought one year supply of Ilocano vinegar.
Aside from bagnet, empanada and pinakbet, Ilocos is famous for their longganisa. And when I woke up the next day I was excited for my breakfast of Ilocano longganisa. When it was served in Balay da Blas where we stayed, I was a little disappointed for it didn’t look so palateable to me. And I begged for forgiveness when I tasted it ….love it! It was not fatty and no coloring or artificial flavoring. Dip it in their vinegar and you can taste heaven.
Vigan longganisa is also popular and we bought two kilos from Leona’s Cafe. Sadly, the longganisa is made to be dipped in Ilocano vinegar. When we arrived home, it was not as delightful as it was in Ilocos but we all love it anyway.
There are many Ilocano dishes that we should ought to try and we will when we return like their crispy dinuguan. Till nex time Ilocandia!