Miki Soup from Ilocos NorteBy Sigrid Salucop
It was the first week of May and I was on vacation in Ilocos Norte. The scorching sun made Ilocos Norte appear like a desert especially with the presence of sand dunes in the outskirts of Batac and the province’s capital, Laoag City.
However, the heat will not stop you from going to the local restaurants though because food in Ilocos Norte is just too delectable to miss. In the morning, locals would have breakfast near the riverside just across the church and the Marcos Mansion. With a bowl or two of miki –a local soup made out of locally-produced egg noodles, chicken, chicken broth and garlic with a sprinkling of chicharon (bagnet), a plate of pan-de-sal and Ilocos longanisa on a stick, you will get one of the best and heaviest Filipino breakfasts ever.
The Ilocano Version of Pakbet
For lunch you can order a bowl of pinakbet in any of the local restaurants, not the one with cubed squash but the original one with thick tomato sauce and lots of chicharon. A healthy lunch with rice, it can go with fried chicharon –an Ilocos specialty that is priced around 500 pesos per kilo in specialty stores in Metro Manila. There is no need for you to spend so much on food if you are in Ilocos though because most meat stores sell chicharon at a lower price.
For merienda, you can go to any of the food chains located in the cities of Batac and Laoag. If you are in Vigan, there are lots of food chains to choose from as well. However, for those who want to satisfy their craving for Ilocano food, it is best to try the Ilocos Empanada. The empanada the Ilocanos know is not the usual empanada in other places because Ilocos Empanada is made from eggs, mongo sprouts, papaya shreds and Ilocano longganisa. The locals call the usual empanada empanadita because of the small size of the delicacy. Empanaditas are usually sold in batches although they are not really considered an Ilocano recipe; all empanaditas are homemade and taste really good. You can order them from local merchants or if you have an Ilocano friend, you can ask where you can get the best empanadita in town. The local empanada however is the Ilocano sandwich, it can be splashed with a bit of Sukang Iloko (sugar cane vinegar) and eaten for merienda or dinner. The best stores to buy your empanada are the ones located in Batac City’s riverside such as Glory and Glomy’s. The local restaurant has been around since the 1940s and the recipe of their empanada has been passed along from generation to generation.
Empanada Queen of San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte
If you decide to take a road trip to Ilocos, do not fail to drop by any of the royal bibingka shops along the road. You will immediately see them when you are nearing Vigan. If you are riding a bus, most of the operators going to Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte stop by these shops. Usually, there is only one stop so be sure to buy a box of royal bibingka before you miss the chance of tasting them. How is the royal bibingka different from the usual bibingka? The royal bibingka is a lot softer and tastier because it has more milk and eggs. They are baked the old fashioned way that is why they are tastier than other types of bibingka sold in other places.
Editor's note: Metro Manila residents can get a quick taste of genuine Ilocos Norte empanadas at Ilocos Empanada along Katipunan Avenue (Beside Bo's Cafe), Quezon City. Just check this excellent link for more details: http://lakwatsero.me/2010/05/05/ilocos-empanada-katipunan-ave-may-5-2010/
(Sigrid Salucop is a freelance writer and a B.A. Public Administration graduate from U.P. Diliman)