Balay Ti Empanada, Empanada Nation, or Lola’s: Our Batac-Style Ilocos Empanada Taste TestJanuary 28, 2019
With its large, wide, semi circular form and vivid orange hue, Ilocos Empanada stands out among other iterations of the pastry. A specialty of its eponymous region, Ilocos Empanada consists of a thin rice-based wrapper that gets fried to a crisp and stuffed with veggies, meat, and/or egg upon your preference, doused upon consumption with the sweet, spicy, complex-tasting punch of Ilocos vinegar. It’s said to come in a few distinct styles, the Batac version—said to be have a thicker, more vivid orange crust and employ grated papaya, bean sprouts, a whole egg, and Laoag longganisa—being among one of the more notable iterations. Though a trip to Ilocos isn’t always possible for us city folk, you’ll find a number of joints offering the delicacy across Manila; how do they compare?
Note: We narrowed down the selection to Batac-style Ilocos Empanada with the most basic filling—i.e. with a single serving each of veggies, meat, and egg (which goes by the moniker “special” in most stores). While photos were shot in the studio, the writer tasted each empanada in-store as this deep-fried treat is best enjoyed fresh.
Balay Ti Empanada – Special
Though relatively pricey at 95 pesos a pop, each empanada from this tiny eatery in White Plains comes long, wide, and visibly stuffed to the brim. Sporting a vivid orange hue, its wrapper flaunts a slightly sweet, nutty profile and crisp, sturdy character that’s solid enough to make for an audible crunch yet crackles easily as you sink in your teeth. Inside you get sautéed papaya and togue (seasoned just a touch and retain a slight bite), a generous amount of their garlicky, savory longganisa (carrying what seems to be a liver-y hint to it), and an egg with, in our experience, runny to close-to-runny yolks, which binds the filling together. All parts come together for a sum that’s flavorful on its own, yet sings especially when doused with vinegar.
Empanada Nation – Batac eMPANADA, Special
This growing franchise churns out empanada that’s also relatively long (just second to Balay Ti’s) and wide, its surface seemingly smoother and more uniform in appearance. Its skin also comes especially firm and crisp, providing ample crunch (even when bathed in vinegar) without being tough or dense. For veggies, you get shreds of green papaya and bean sprouts that are barely seasoned, allowing their natural sweetness to come forward. They can be inconsistent in the amount of longganisa however, as orders on succeeding visits contained but a few crumbles toward the outer edge, which contribute some of their notably more sour-leaning flavor profile but ultimately feel bitin. The egg within also more often comes out well-done with a rubbery yolk.
Lola’s Ilocos Empanada – Classic
Sporting a deep orange hue and a surface dotted with loose, puffy air bubbles, Lola’s crust falls under the crisp-crackly but more delicate end of the spectrum, with a more tender, starchier, somewhat puffier feel to it (possibly due to the dough itself having more distinct pockets of fat folded in) and a peculiar umami taste we can best liken to that of the coating on kwek-kwek. There are no bean sprouts in their take (though they confirm being of the Batac sort), but their shredded papaya comes seasoned just right, notably with a touch of pepper, and retaining a soft yet discernible crunch. You get also a good amount of sausage of a peppery, slightly piquant profile, which comes well distributed that you get some in almost every bite. The eggs can be inconsistent, but at its best comes with a perfectly runny yolk that dribbles down and enriches the rest of the filling.
The Verdict: Balay Ti Empanada
Relatively expensive as it may be, Balay Ti’s version wins by all accounts—from its satisfying crunchy, crackly wrapper to its filling of cooked-just-right, seasoned-just-right veg, generous longganisa, and (for the most part) runny egg. But the other two nonetheless offer their own strengths to the Ilocos Empanada game: Empanada Nation’s boasts of an addictive, uber-crunchy wrapper that we can’t get enough of; and Lola’s, though not quite as crispy (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), has great ratio of veg to meat to egg within.