This is What Ilocos Tastes Like for Sandy DazaMay 15, 2020
There is much contention when it comes to picking a region that best encapsulates Filipino cuisine. Cebu takes pride in their lechon, whereas the Southern part of the Philippines plays tribute to our local coconut and seafood. Dishes, though, are another story. Sinigang alone, for example, is already prone to a lot of permutations and versions—do you want your fish/pork/beef cooked in santol/miso/tamarind/guava? And let’s not even get started on the adobo.
When it comes to this heated debate though, everyone can agree that Ilocos is a strong contender in this battle. Their longganisas, empanadas, and bagnet dishes are tough to compete with. (I had the most incredible bowls of monggo soup there. ) Industry patron Sandy Daza gives a glimpse of Ilocos through his eyes, from his favorite Ilocano dishes, to his most memorable food experiences in the region.
How were you exposed to Ilocano food?
We put up a tomato plant in Ilocos Norte called “Northern Foods,” and it’s still running until today. So every afternoon after work around 3-5 o’clock, I’d ride my bike and go to the city and I remembered that it was during one of those bike rides that I encountered the empanada. I thought it was so unique and unusual like, “What the hell is this?” I loved it so much. Actually, in the beginning it wasn’t so great, and then it grew on me.
I love Ilocos empanada! I had this really good one in Batac. But where’s your favorite place to get it?
In Laoag. They have different stalls of empanadas there. The empanada of Laoag and of Batac are different, okay? I find the crust of the Laoag empanada to be thinner, and of course, the longganisa they use is different. If you find yourself there again, you have to go to Glory’s Empanada, they’re the ones that invented the empanada. Right across, there’s a place called Janette’s Miki. It’s so good; it’s like a soupy palabok with chicharon. What you do is get a spoonful of miki, and put their spicy Ilocano vinegar. Heaven!
Holy crap, that sounds so good. Is it like luglug?
It’s like a luglug paste but soupy.
So, my friends and I recently went on a road trip up north. We ended up eating in the carinderias along the streets. We had a lot of dinakdakan; it was crazy.
My friend, Rudy Fariñas, who was mayor during the time I was in Ilocos, had great food at his home. It was the first time I came across dinakdakan. I don’t really have a recommendation for dinakdakan, because that’s where I remember it best. But here in [Wooden Spoon], I made it leaner. The original kasi, puro taba. Don’t worry, it still has the utak, but just a little bit.
If you were to choose only one place in Ilocos where you could eat every single day in, where would that be?
Hands down, Dawang’s. My friends told me, “Pare you have to try this place.” We were 18 people, and our bill was only PHP 1,800, and we were so full. It was the most authentic Ilocano food I’ve had, but you have to go there before 1 o’clock because they run out of food fast! All the food there is great, but really, it’s the dinuguan. Unlike the thin and soupy ones here in Manila, the one in Ilocos is thick and dry. Also, in Dawang’s, their dinuguan is chicharon; walang meat! So sinful talaga!
Is there any difference between Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur in terms of taste?
It’s exactly the same, but I find Ilocos Sur to be finer in taste. I ate in Vigan recently, and I like their pinakbet —it was really delicious. They have very good produce—the flavors of their dishes rely mainly on the freshness of their vegetables. It’s like 24 hours ago, everything you’re eating now was alive. Like the poqui-poqui there is really exceptional.
I agree! I ate so much of that when we were in Paoay, but that was in Ilocos Norte.
You see, the key there is to grill the eggplant, then sauté the garlic, onions, tomatoes, scrambled eggs, and add a little bagoong. Eagle’s Nest is another place where you should eat that. It’s in Java Hotel run by Eric Fariñas. They have really good Ilocano food. You should also try their sinanglaw.
Isn’t that the papaitan-like soup made with innards?
Yes. Pero ang sarap. One place my friends made me try is a place called Dayo. Every Sunday they bring carabao and cows to trade. But beside that place, they have another restaurant and they made me try papaitan. Ang pangit. You can imagine that the one that invented it was drunk. It was raw carabao with fresh onions, ginger, and bile. They feed them grass, slaughter it, get the grass, and squeeze [the juice out]. It tastes like poo. It smells like poo. It was so disgusting! I’m not sure if that’s how the original papaitan is made. The meat was tender but. . . baho eh!
If there’s one Ilocano dish that defines what Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur is combined, what would you think it would be?
I would say bagnet. The best bagnet is in Malabet in Batac. Before, I never really was too crazy about bagnet because I found it too bland. But my friend kept on telling me, “Pare have it with KBL, which is kamatis, bagoong, and lasona (an onion relish)—that’s why the bagnet comes bland. You eat it with KBL.
How does lechon kawali differ from bagnet?
For lechon kawali, cooking takes a few minutes lang. And then bagnet, around two hours on low fire. Bagnet is madaya—when you cook bagnet, your two kilos becomes one kilo. Nawawala ng taba eh. The taba goes to the oil so when you fry, it’s really oily. I’ve seen different ways of cooking it. In Ilocos Sur one way they do it is they rub it with salt, put it in a kawali, put in oil, and heat it. So: cold oil, then they fry it. Some people put water and oil para pumutok ang balat. Yung iba, they boil it and fry it twice: fry until it’s cooked, take it out and let the oil cool, then fry again.
What else am I missing???
Dinengdeng! Nako, ang sarap ng dinengdeng! It relies on the freshness of the vegetables, so if your vegetables are fresh, ang sarap talaga. And of course it relies heavily also on the bagoong. That’s what Marcos loved to eat, by the way. Marcos was a very simple man; his meals were just rice,dinengdeng, and fish. Yung mga Ilocos, gawa sa fish yung bagoong nila. So even their pinakbet is fish [bagoong]. They just put everything together and mix it. But you should go to Vigan, the bagoong is good there. Very masarap.