Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Northern Exposure: My favorite bites in Ilocos (part1)


Ilocos is a region with a distinct cuisine and a lot of history surrounding it. It is also a very popular cuisine…having spread its delicious influence southwards so that non-ilocanos, like me, are lulled into believing a dish like pinakbet (a steamed/braised vegetable dish) was ours all our lives. One such dish of Ilocano provenance is bagnet, what I like to think of as a chicharon/pork belly confit hybrid. To a pork-chick like me, a kind of holy grail. So, aside from all the famous sites of that region, I was also very (very!) much looking forward to the food. Here are my highlights:

Bagnet –This was the number one dish I was itching to try right in its homeland (I have had a number of times before in Manila – like this time!). Bagnet is made of pork belly (other choice cuts are used as well) that is boiled, then rested, then put in a slow deep fry, then chopped up and deep fried again quickly to crisp up. Scary to some, almost unbearably divine to others (i.e. me). We had it at three places and I enjoyed it every single time. It is served traditionally with KBL (kamatis, bagoong, lasona) – tomatoes, fish sauce, and onions. Bagoong in Manila is usually shrimp paste, but in Ilocos it is unrepentantly powerful fish sauce. This, for me, is the best condiment to have with bagnet, the strong flavors cutting through the fattiness of the pork like a culinary light saber.

We had bagnet in La Preciosa Restaurant in Laoag, at Sitio Remedios our resort, and in Saud Beach Resort Pagudpud. I like the one in La Preciosa the best, although really I enjoyed every one.


Poqui poqui РStrange name, simple dish. Touted as the Ilocano version of tortang talong, it is made up of eggplant, onions, tomato, and egg. Now, I love tortang talong, not just like, love, so I was certainly going to try its northern cousin. As expected, when the combination of egg and eggplant are involved, I loved this too. Grilled eggplant is saut̩ed with tomatoes, onion, and egg. Simple, yes, but at La Preciosa restaurant it was so sneakily tasty that I unconsciously kept going back to it until I realized just how much of it I had eaten! This is definitely a dish I will recreate at home!


Dinendeng – I wanted to try dinegdeng because aside from being a typical Ilocano dish, it wasn’t as popular down here as, say, pinakbet, which can almost be called a staple in many Filipino tables. Either a vegetable soup with fish, or a fish soup with a whole lot of vegetables, I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. But I did! The broth is flavored with fish sauce (bagoong isda, not patis) and a few pieces of fried or grilled fish. The star of this soup for me though is the vegetables. They are vibrant and green, if cooked just right…bright, sweet-grassy notes in an otherwise mild fish soup. Mostly green vegetables are used – ours had okra, ampalaya/bitter melon, sitaw/long beans or snake beans, squash flowers, sigarilyas/winged beans, and these little pods that come from the malunggay plant. We had this at La Preciosa and at Sitio Remedios. I like the one at Sitio Remedios better but both were very good.


Vigan Longanisa – In the Philippines there seems to be a longanisa (like a sausage or chorizo) for every region…even some cities boast their own. I count myself lucky as I adore longanisa and, thanks to all these regions churning out their own versions, always have a nice selection in the freezer (right now it’s Lucban, Vigan, Zamboanga…and some made by a friend right here in Manila!). So it goes without saying that I would be trying my share of Vigan’s version. I enjoyed this savory, garlicky, longanisa every morning for breakfast at our resort, but the Vigan longanisa I enjoyed most was the one I brought back home with me…fried by C that same night :) Maybe because it really is best freshly fried? C loved it too so we are jealously guarding our stash…


Pinakbet – No trip to Ilocos would be complete, food-wise, without trying pinakbet. Pinakbet is a braise (well, technically I think it’s steamed) of various vegetables native to the region, flavored with fish sauce (again, not patis but their own “bagoong isda”). Vegetables commonly included are ampalaya/bitter melon, eggplant, okra, and sitaw/long beans. Other vegetables, depending on what’s available, are also tossed in the mix. Where I come from, we also add squash. As a child I would try to pick out the ampalaya pieces behind my mother’s back. In Ilocos I gamely took them on…even if the mini ampalaya they use is stronger in flavor. I got a few good pieces down though and it was not as bitter as I feared. Am I outgrowing irrational childhood food traits? I hope so! :) We had pinakbet in Sitio Remedios and Pinakbet Pizza in Plaza Burgos in Vigan. I still prefer my pinakbet with rice though, thank you :)

La Preciosa Restaurant - Rizal Street, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte
Sitio Remedios – Barangay Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte
Saud Beach Resort – Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte
Plaza Burgos – Vigan, Ilocos Sur (walk up Calle Crisologo and you will hit it); there are a few restaurants surrounding the plaza but you can sit at a table on the plaza itself and they can serve you there.

NOTE: Nena has put up her first post on our Ilocos trip! She will be doing a whole series on our adventure, so keep checking back at Ramblings From a Gypsy Soul for her wonderful travel writing and beautiful photos! :)

23 comments:

glamah16 said...

That Bagnet looks awsome. Not scary to me!

Manggy said...

I can take or leave bagnet and pinakbet but I think vigan longganisa once a week is good therapy for the soul :)

Dhanggit said...

oh joey you just made my day!! seeing all these wonderful filipino food im getting more and more excited to be there next month for vacation :-) with all these photos i'll probabl do a small culinary trip to the north :-)

MikeMina said...

Bagnet . . . really divine! Pork monster here . . . :-)

ChichaJo said...

Hi Glamah16! We are of the same mind! :)

Hi Manggy! Hehe...longanisa as therapy...is that your professional opinion? ;) Coz I definitely agree!

Hi Dhanggit! I can just imagine...when I was working abroad I would eat all Pinoy food when I would come home for holidays :) Whereabouts in the Philippines will you be headed? :)

Hi Mike! Yay! A partner in crime :)

christine said...

Sigh, you're making me crave all of that wonderful food all over again! The food was indeed a highlight and I swear the dinendeng and poqui poqui were such revelations! I've vowed to try making the latter as well. :)

oggi said...

OMG! The bagnet makes me hungry!

Poqui poqui is a strange name.:)

Veron said...

Joey, that bagnet is simply a piece of heaven. I am going to make a special request for it from my brothers when I visit the Philippines.

Marvin said...

"cutting through the fattiness of the pork like a culinary light saber."

Very nicely said, joey! Also, what is the difference btwn. bagoong isda and patis?

This post has made me so so so excited for my trip to the 'peens in June!

tinymango! said...

oh my god, longganisa, i cant even tell you the last time ive seen that..... we have a filipino food restaurant in richmond that i've been meaning to check out, called manila! manila! this has made me more excited and motivated.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Nens! I am craving too! Good thing I've got bagnet and longanisa in the freezer :) I totally agree that dinengdeng and poqui poqui were revelations...let me know when you find a good recipe and I'll do likewise :)

Hahaha! Hi Oggi! It is more than strange I think ;) Believe me, even the Ilocanos made comments!

Hi Veron! I'm sure you will like it...especially since you have had first hand experience in making your own pork belly confit (bravo!) :) Are you visiting anytime soon?

Hi Marvin! It's always nice to sneak a little Star Wars in :) Patis (which you are familiar with I believe) is the fish sauce we commonly use as a condiment or an ingredient in many dishes (this is what you use to dip your mom's lumpia in). Bagoong isda (fermented fish paste) is slightly thicker than patis, although much more liquid than the more common shrimp bagoong. It is darker than patis and cloudy...unlike patis which is clear. And ohboyohboy does it pack a punch! They also make this in Batangas where it's called Bagoong Balayan :)

Hello Tiny Mango! Thanks for dropping by :) Good to hear you have a Filipino restaurant opening nearby you...hope it's good!

Sakai said...

Bagnet!! hot rice!! Sukang Illonggo!! home made liver sauce!!

the sub-urban rambler said...

i was born in ilocos [bacarra near laoag] and grew up there a bit [then hawaii, NYC, NM]. those food you depicted are in my veins and still sustain me [i try to recreate them as often as possible here in albuquerque nm or when i used to live in nyc] but i can actually conjure the characteristic aroma of each dish in my brain. it is that deep seated. great post!

Bordeaux said...

Oh yes, the bagnet looks really yummy. Would love to go try it in the Beautiful Ilocos myself. Looking forward to Part 2 of this series!

aria said...

holy heavens, your pictures are so beautiful! it all looks fantastic, now i'm ravenous!! YUM

charcuterista said...

I have to agree - the Bagnat looks fantastic! Great photo! I have a large peice of pork belly coming in this weekend - most of it is already designated as pancetta, but maybe I can use part of it for this...

Suzana said...

Joey, it sounds like great fun! That bagnet... wow! Looking forward to hear more about the trip. :)

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

What wonderful dishes! Yummy!

Cheers,

Rosa

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Swoooon! I've really enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you for sharing so much with us.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Sakai! I share your excitement :)

Hi Sub-urban Rambler! It's so nice to know this post has reached a local Ilocano :) Glad you enjoyed it...your region is so beautiful, and the food fantastic!

Hi Bordeaux! I hope to have the 2nd part up soon! :)

Hi Aria! Thanks :) The food was really amazing!

Hi Charcuterista! You make your own pancetta! How impressive :) Would love to be your neighbor, heehee :)

Hi Suzana! Bagnet is awesome in my book...albeit not the healthiest thing in the world ;)

Hi Rosa! They really were :)

Hi there Just a Plane Ride Away! Thanks for stopping by and so happy to know you enjoyed the post :)

Burniki said...

Hi, I'm a fan of your blog :D Yeah I recently visited Vigan and Pagudpud too and reading these posts about your Northern adventures made me feel wistful!

Anyways, you didn't try the Pipian? It's a very interesting dish, I can't make out the taste though. You'll find out what I'm talking about when you get a taste of it. Take Care!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Burniki! Thanks for you nice comment! I'm glad you are enjoying my blog :) :) Just writing these Ilocos posts made me feel wistful too! I don't think we got to try Pipian...more for next time! :)

Aldrich Lloyd Vitug said...

ang galing naman, very good writing and photos...