When I travel, I always make sure to try local food, since nothing beats having a great meal with friends and family as a way to bond. I’ve always done this, and my recent trip with my family to Ilocos was no different. For your convenience, I’ve gathered and sampled several Ilocos delicacies I think you should try when going on your first trip up north.
Bagnet is a deep fried pork dish submerged in boiling oil several times until it becomes crispy all over. While I think it is cooked in almost the same way, bagnet is much, much better than your average lechon kawali or crispy pata. It’s usually served with a dipping sauce made of fish bagoong (thick fish sauce), tomatoes and red onions, or a dipping sauce of soy sauce, vinegar and chili.
Bagnet is practically available in every restaurant you run into once you hit Ilocos. Even Max’s in Laoag serves bagnet (and the taste is pretty authentic).
Pinakbet or Pakbet is a classic Ilocano vegetable dish stewed in fish bagoong. Native vegetables, like okra, string beans and camote are typically used. Pinakbet will normally have a thick rich sauce which goes very well with plain rice.
Chef Nic Rodriquez’s Bistro Candon (in Candon, Ilocos Sur) is famous for its pinakbet (which you really should try if you get the chance). Bistro Candon’s version is cooked the traditional way – vegetables are layered and stewed in a clay pot with fish bagoong for flavor. (Notably, the bagoong does not overpower the taste of fresh native vegetables). For added texture, they also top it with bits of bagnet.
Bistro Candon’s diningdeng (sometimes called inabraw) is also a must try. Diningdeng is very similar to pinakbet except it takes the form of a vegetable soup with fish bagoong.
3. Vigan Longganisa
Like the bagnet, you can order Vigan longganisa in almost all food places in Ilocos. This type of longganisa is seasoned with pepper and garlic and is not sweet. It is best eaten with a bit of sukang Ilocos. I’ve yet to encounter a dish of Vigan longganisa I did not like, but the ones I tried in Herencia Restaurant were particularly good.
4. Ilocos Empanada
Ilocos empanada is a deep fried stuffed pastry filled with monggo sprouts, egg and Vigan longganisa. It is best eaten with a lot of sukang ilocos.
There are two kinds of Ilocos empanada, depending on the thickness of the pastry crust used. The Ilocos empanada with a thicker pastry crust is more common. I tried one in front of the Batac Church, which was pretty okay.
Empanadas with thin pastry crusts are usually sold in Vigan, and I must say I like this version more. Irene’s Empanada (in Calle Crisologo) serves a mean version which you should try.
5. Ilocano Pizza
Obviously, Ilocano pizza is not a traditional Ilocos delicacy. But it is gaining popularity and it’s a must-try for me. The Vigan longganisa and pinakbet pizza at Herencio Restaurant (which claims that it created the pinakbet pizza) in Paoay is very good (except for the fact that it had ampalaya). The fish bagoong, surprisingly, went really well with the cheese.