If you’re a visiting foodie in the Philippines, locals would tell you that you have to start your foodie adventure up in the northern part of the Philippines – the Ilocos region. Ilocano foods, after all, make up one of the most distinct regional cuisines in the country, ranging from tasty appetizers made of a pig’s brain and head to desserts with rice and coconut milk.
To complete your foodie adventure up in the north, here’s a guide to 10 Ilocano foods you need to try ASAP.
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There’s a reason why bagnet, a deep-fried slab of pork belly, is so popular not just in Ilocos but throughout the Philippines. For many, it reigns supreme among all fried pork belly variants. It’s deep-fried for two to three hours on low fire to achieve an ultimate golden brown crispiness, compared to lechon kawali which is only cooked for a few minutes.
It’s best to eat bagnet by dipping it into a sauce of sliced tomatoes (kamatis), Ilocos bagoong (fermented fish or shrimp paste), and onion (lasona) – also known as the acronym KBL.
You can savor this meat in various restaurants in the north, such as Hidden Garden Lilong and Lilang Restaurant in Brgy. Bulala, Vigan City, Ilocos Sur.
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Ask a local what the most distinct longganisa variant in the Philippines is- and Vigan’s longganisa would probably be on top of his mind. Unlike most longganisa that’s sweeter in taste, Vigan longganisa is a stuffed pork meat with an addictive salty and garlicky flavor. The dish is such a point of pride that locals in Vigan even dedicated a festival to the dish- the Longganisa Festival which is usually held in January.
It’s not difficult to find a stall selling this native longganisa when you pay a visit to the historic city of Vigan. There’s Jeannie Piamonte Garlic Vigan Longganisa & Bagnet in Capangpangan and Irene’s Vigan Empanada in Crisologo.
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Papaitan may not be easy on a foreign palate, as it consists of the strangest goat or beef parts such as tripe, liver, kidney, and intestine dipped in dark-green-to-yellowish-brown bile soup. Its name came from the word “pait” – which means “bitterness” in English.
But don’t be intimidated by the taste of this quintessential Ilocano dish – you can balance out the subtly bitter taste of bile by adding zesty and salty ginger, garlic, and onions, or a squirt of calamansi into your bowl of papaitan.
Papaitan is every man’s favorite in the Ilocos region, so you can find it anywhere, in carinderias (small food stalls) or your favorite Ilocano restaurant.
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Filipinos love their pulutan (snacks to go with drinks), and Ilocanos love to eat dinakdakan. It’s the Ilocano version of the Kapampangans’ sisig, and comprises a mishmash of grilled and sliced pig parts such as face, ears, liver, and tongue in a sea of calamansi dressing layered with ginger, onions, and chili.
The mashed pig brain used as a sauce completes this dish – and actually hints at how old the recipe of dinakdakan is. Food historians say this combo might actually date back to the Austronesian era in the Philippines.
It’s a popular Ilocano staple, so you can easily order it from locals selling online or when you’re on a tour in Ilocos Sur, check out restaurants such as Pinares Pagkaing Pinoy.
Dinardaraan – or Ilocanos’ version of dinuguan (savory pork meat or organ stew) – might not be for those who cringe at blood, but this dish has less blood sauce, is heavier on pig innard slices, and is actually a creamy mixture similar to meat doused in chocolate.
It’s best to pair this dish with rice, to add another layer of texture to your palate’s experience. Salmon’s Pansitan Pasuquin serves dinardaraan among other Ilocano classics.
Not everyone is a fan of the culinary variants of liver, but for those of us who are, the Ilocanos’ igado is a sure treat for our palate. It’s a mixture of pig innards and tenderloin with liver slices soaked in a vinegar-soy sauce mixture that gives this dish a unique salty and tangy taste. Green peas and bell pepper add a layer to this dish, making it richer in texture.
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Filipinos love their sweets during long rides or byahe to and from their provinces. If Laguna has Buko Pie and Davao has their durian desserts, the Ilocanos are proud of their tupig, a mix of wrapped malagkit or glutinous rice and coconut strips cooked over charcoal.
It may not have the opulent appeal of other desserts, but this humble sweet is actually addictive, which explains why Filipinos love to consume it in succession and to give it to their kamag-anaks as pasalubong from their trips in the Ilocos region.
It’s usually sold in public streets throughout the Ilocos region by walking vendors – just park alongside a corner of a public market and you’re sure to be swarmed by them holding their packs of tupig.
Also check out some of our favorite Vigan dessert places here:
A creative mix of veggies, dinengdeng is a rich mix of greens such as jute leaves, saluyot, eggplant, malunggay, pods, and okra in water boiled with bagoong. No wonder this was a favorite of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, an Ilocano himself, according to Chef Sandy Daza.
A favorite appetizer – pokpoklo or seaweed – reflects how Ilocanos are equally sailors of the sea as they are the farmers of their land. After it is rinsed with water to get rid of any particles of sand clinging onto its slimy morsels, pokpoklo can be eaten raw, fresh from the saltiness of the sea.
Usually, Ilocanos add slices of tomatoes and squirts of calamansi and vinegar to add flavor to this healthy seaweed, known to have anti-cancer benefits.
Perhaps, if there’s a quintessential vegetable dish representative of the Ilocos region as well as the Philippines, it’ll be pinakbet. Mention a vegetable from the Bahay Kubo rhyme and it’s probably included in this dish: sitaw, batawa, patani… anyone?
A combination of vegetables cooked until they are dried, this dish is then seasoned with the Ilocos region’s favorite seasoning, bagoong. Sometimes, slices of pork are added to balance the all-green ingredients of this dish.
The result is a note-perfect combination of the bagoong and vegetables, tasting as if the bagoong were part of the vegetables themselves.
Located on a lush, green farm, The Pinakbet Farm in Ilocos Sur is a restaurant you should visit when you’re craving the dish.
Some say that Ilocanos are some of the most frugal people – as shown by their practicality and creativity with their cuisines.
These dishes drawing out the culinary potential of every part of a pig or mixing every vegetable in the Bahay Kubo to craft some of the most delicious cuisines representative not just of their region, but of the Philippines as well.
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