Monday, February 18, 2008
Northern Exposure: My favorite bites in Ilocos (part2)
More than just delicious dishes, eating in Ilocos was also about the experience. So I decided to divide my gustatory highlights there in two – one for just the dishes themselves and one that includes the people and places. Well, that and I didn’t want to bore you to tears with too long a post…
Batac Empanada at D’Original Glory’s – Much like the dishes I named in my last post, Ilocos is famous for their empanada. A savory “meat pie”, a filling of longanisa and various vegetables (shredded unripe papaya and monggo) surround a cooked egg (hard or soft can be requested) and is ensconced in a bright orange dough…the lot of which is then deep fried. Woo! Touted as Vigan empanda, it is actually sold in many places around the Ilocos region. We didn’t have much time for taste trials though, so we asked our guide to lead us to the best. And he did…in Batac. Here you will find a grouping of empanda stalls under one roof. At the back end of this group you will find D’Original Glory’s. And it is here where you will find the best empanda your money will buy (of course this is a matter of personal opinion and taste). We wolfed ours down, the steaming filling spattered with generous shakes from the bottle of basi (sugarcane wine) vinegar. I can’t say I tried all the empanadas Ilocos had to offer, but this one was the best I’ve tried…so good it almost made us miss our dinner! D’Original Glory’s - Riverside Centro, Batac City, Ilocos Norte.
Midnight Hot Chocolate at Sitio Remedios – We checked into our resort after dinner, tired but exhilarated from a day full of sight seeing. After lazing around in our canopy beds (yes! more on our dreamy resort later…), we decided to get showered, explore the grounds, and perhaps relax with a glass of wine. As we ventured out of our villa, we were met by the resort’s charismatic owner. “Come have some hot chocolate and biscocho with us!” A session of cozy late night sweets? The answer to that question is always yes :) So we followed him to an open-air eating area facing the sea. Soft warm lighting revealed a table strewn with native sweets, including the aforementioned biscocho, a pitcher each of hot chocolate and coffee…and sitting among the other guests, another local blogger! We excitedly introduced ourselves and immediately began chatting about anything and everything. Conversation, and hot chocolate, flowed easily around the table. We sat nibbling on the crunchy biscocho and sticky rice in banana leaf packets which had been boiled in a sugar syrup mixture, listening to another guest regale us with the riveting tales of Juan Luna’s life (Juan Luna is a national artist who hails from Ilocos). A night full of pleasant surprises :)
Biscocho from Pasuquin – Now, more on that biscocho. It was a crunchy golden swirl which made for good dipping (as in the hot chocolate). As we talked the night away, the guest who had brought the biscocho mentioned that he got it from a town two hours from our resort. Another guest also mentioned that they had a soft version, which is basically the bread before it gets toasted to crisp biscocho-ness. Our interest piqued, we made a mental note to see if we could sneak a visit to this town during our next day’s activities…and we did! When I saw the fluffy white buns that were the soft biscocho I already knew I would love it. It is a soft, chewy roll with just the very slightest hint of anise. We ate from our communal bag all day…the rolls keeping us fortified through intensive sight-seeing. Chewing on these soft buns and staring dreamily out at the Ilocos countryside had an almost hypnotic effect on me. I could have eaten a mountain of these! Pasuquin Bakery - Poblacion #3, Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte.
Dinner at Sitio Remedios – I’ll going into more detail about our resort in the next post, but for now let me just say that it totally won me over in the ambiance and vibe department. I only wish our trip was longer so we could have spent more time there, lying about and day-dreaming…because if you had been there, you too would see what a perfect spot for day-dreaming it was. It was in this setting that we had, what was in my opinion at least, the most magical meal of the trip – atmosphere-wise. The courtyard was awash in the warm glow of a multitude of candles, on one end was the small stone chapel all lit up, on the other end was the sea with its waves providing their calming symphony. We had Ilocano specialties for dinner, some of which I have already mentioned in my last post. To think we were just two tables (one table with the 3 of us and another with a group of 5 or 6) amidst all this loveliness! This meal was truly a sum of all its parts – good food, gorgeous setting, and great company :)
Seaside lunch at Pagudpud – Although yummy, I wouldn’t say our food at Pagudpud was the highlight of our meal there. It was good yes…we had bagnet, which of course I thoroughly enjoyed (again!) and kilawin, a fish ceviche, which was pleasantly cool on that sunny day. We also had fried fish and grilled eggplant salad…food that tastes extra good when you have it by the sea. We washed everything down with fresh coconut water, sipping from coconuts that were just cut down as we placed our order. Yes, a very good lunch. But the highlight for me was having it all in a hut by a pristine white beach, without the masses of people that crowd our more popular beaches, knowing that I was at the Northern-most tip of the Luzon mainland, the waves crashing on the shore with the energy of currents very different from those of the sheltered coves I’m used to. It was very calming but at the same time had a kind of final-frontier-ish feel about it – not the kind of ambiance you can find at a city restaurant.
The Markets and our take home stash – My food highlights would not be complete without mentioning the markets we visited and the bounty we brought back home with us. At the Batac market we picked up native hand towels, table napkins, and runners made with local Ilocos cotton. To get a small glimpse into the local food shopping scene, we went to the San Nicolas Market. There you can find everything from fish and meat, to piles of fresh vegetables (and local seaweed!). They have a special room for the stalls selling bagnet and longanisa. I think I got a little star struck from seeing so much bagnet in one place! Mmm :) We didn’t buy anything there as we had already commissioned the kind staff at our resort to buy bagnet and longanisa for us to bring home. Among our loot were also garlands of garlic and shallots, sacks of sea salt, and liter-bottles of basi (sugarcane wine) vinegar – all typical specialties of the region. Now I can enjoy a little Ilocos at home :)
I’ll be posting my non-food highlights next…I wouldn’t want you all to think that all I did there was eat, now would I? ;)