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Ilocano Food: A Guide to the Flavors and Traditions of Northern Philippine Cuisine
Ilocano food is a cuisine that originates from the Ilocos region of the Philippines, located on the northwest coast of Luzon Island. It is known for its unique flavors and ingredients, heavily influenced by the region’s geography and climate. The cuisine is characterized by its use of vegetables, seafood, and meat and its distinctive sour taste.
The Department of Tourism (DOT)-Region 1 has invited a host of culinary experts, tour operators, content creators, provincial tourism officers, and other stakeholders to join them on an exciting gastronomic journey through the north of the Philippines, entitled: “MAY-KAN: Discovering Flavors of the North Through A Gastronomic Experience.”
MAY-KAN, a three-day gastronomy tour, was inspired by the Ilocano words ‘umay’ and ‘makan,’ an invitation to come and eat. This tour was created in response to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s call to map culinary identities and boost food tourism in each nation. It aimed to showcase the unique gastronomic offerings of Region 1.
Overview of Ilocano Cuisine
Ilocano cuisine is known for its unique and delicious flavors from the region’s cultural influences and locally available ingredients.
Ilocano cuisine is a reflection of the region’s culture and history. The cuisine has been shaped by the region’s agricultural practices and the influence of neighboring countries. The people of the Ilocos region have a solid connection to the land and sea, evident in the dishes they prepare.
The cuisine is characterized by its saltiness and the use of vinegar, which is locally known as sukang Iloko. Bagoong, a fermented fish or shrimp paste, is a staple ingredient in many Ilocano dishes. Garlic is also a key ingredient in many dishes, adding flavor and aroma.
Ilocano cuisine features a variety of dishes that are hearty and filling. The dishes are often made with pork, beef, and fish, readily available in the region. Vegetables also play a significant role in Ilocano cuisine, and the region is known for producing a variety of unique vegetables, such as the utong, katuray, and saluyot.
Some of the most popular Ilocano dishes include pinakbet, a vegetable stew made with bitter melon, eggplant, squash, and various local vegetables, and dinengdeng, a fish and vegetable soup. Other popular dishes include bagnet, a crispy fried pork belly, ilocos longganisa; and igado, a pork and liver stew.
Popular Ilocano Dishes
Ilocano cuisine is known for its unique and delicious flavors. The region’s cuisine is heavily influenced by its geography, which includes flat plains beside the sea, making seafood and vegetable dishes common. Pork is also a staple ingredient in many Ilocano dishes. Here are some of the most popular Ilocano dishes that you need to try:
Pinakbet, also known as Pakbet to the locals, is a beloved vegetable dish in the Philippines that combines the flavors of eggplant, bitter melon, okra, and string beans cooked with bagoong (fermented fish paste). This tasty dish is often served with rice and is a staple of Ilokano cuisine. The beauty of Pinakbet lies in its versatility; almost any vegetable can be added to the mix.
In fact, if you know the lyrics to the traditional folk song “Bahay Kubo,” you’ll know the vegetables often added to the dish.
Ilocos empanada is a savory snack with a crunchy orange exterior made from rice flour. It is usually filled with vegetables, longganisa (a type of sausage), and egg. The filling may also include mung bean, grated papaya, and gamet (a type of local seaweed).
The Ilocos empanada is inspired by the Spanish empanada but has its unique twist. It is a must-try food in Ilocos, known for its distinctive appearance and delicious taste.
Bagnet is a beloved Ilocano pork dish that will keep you wanting more with its double-fried crispiness. Kasim, the part of the pork used for the Bagnet, is slow-cooked in lard in a big kawali over an old-school, wood-fired cement oven for two to three hours until it is tender and crispy.
This delicious dish is best served with rice and a dipping sauce made with vinegar, garlic, and chilies.
Dinengdeng is a flavorful vegetable dish often mistaken for Pinakbet due to its similar cooking method and appearance. This vibrant dish is made with okra, eggplant, and bitter melon, cooked with bagoong, and served with rice.
Dinengdeng is different from Pinakbet because it typically uses green or yellow vegetables like malunggay leaves and fruits, squash, and squash blossoms. At the same time, Pinakbet contains the more colorful “Bahay Kubo” veggies. Grilled pieces of fish or other meat can also be added to the mix for an extra flavor.
The Ilokanos are known for their resourcefulness, especially when it comes to their food. This is especially true with the creation of Dinakdakan, a sisig-like dish made from pig face, ears, liver, tongue, and even brain.
Not content to simply grill the meat, the Ilokanos add a flavorful mixture of calamansi, red onions, and sometimes ginger and red chili peppers for an extra kick. The mashed brain adds a creamy texture to the dish, though modern takes on this dish often use mayonnaise as an alternative.
The succulent pork tenderloin and innards of Igado come together to create a unique and tasty dish. The sweet-and-sour notes of the pork, combined with the tangy flavor of Sukang Iloko, soy sauce, and pepper, make this dish a delight for the taste buds.
With crisp red bell peppers and green peas adding a crunchy texture, Igado is a popular Ilokano dish that will make you want to keep eating more and more rice. The thick and rich texture of the dish, without any broth, only adds to the pleasure of indulging in this delicious meal.
Sinanglaw, a beloved soup from the Ilocos region, is a savory dish made with goat meat, chilies, and vinegar. It’s a popular starter or appetizer that showcases the thrifty and hardworking mentality of the Ilokanos, who have a knack for transforming leftovers into something special. Although Sinanglaw is similar to Pinapaitan, it doesn’t have a bitter taste.
Bile and ox tripe are used in the soup but are diluted, while beef tendons and beef brisket are used in larger amounts. After the meat is cooked in low heat for several hours, the flavorful soup is seasoned with ginger, sour tamarind, and finger chilies, creating a delightful dish that’s sure to please the palate.
Satisfy your taste buds with Insarabasab, a popular and flavorful Ilokano delicacy. This main course dish is made with grilled pork, onion, ginger, and a special marinade of Sukang Iloko, calamansi, and garlic.
The pork is cooked in a unique way, “something burned in the fire”, to give it a smoky flavor. The grilled pork is mixed with raw red onions and chilies for a truly delicious dish. Don’t miss out on this must-try grilled Ilokano delicacy, Insarabasab, the region’s version of Sisig.
Dinardaraan is a unique pork dish that is popular in Ilocos. It is made with pork, vinegar, and sugar, and is often referred to as “chocolate meat” due to its dark color.
It is an Ilocano version of dinuguan, but with less sauce, giving it a dry texture. The oil is also more noticeable due to the lack of liquid. Enjoy this flavorful dish with rice for a truly delicious experience!
A beloved dish from Ilocos, Poqui-Poqui (also known as poki poki) is a delicious combination of grilled eggplant, onion, and tomatoes scrambled with egg. The eggplant is first cooked over an open flame, peeled, and mashed before being mixed with the other ingredients.
Tupig is a sweet and chewy Filipino delicacy from the northern parts of the Philippines, this delectable treat is made with glutinous rice, coconut strips, muscovado sugar, and coconut milk. The mixture is then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over charcoal until cooked and slightly charred.
With its sweet and chewy texture, Tupig is the perfect snack or dessert to enjoy after a long day. Whether you’re in Pangasinan, Tarlac, or Ilocos, you can find this delightful treat in local markets and food stalls.
Okoy is a dish made with shrimp and glutinous rice. The mixture is deep-fried until it is crispy and golden brown. Okoy is a Filipino appetizer or snack that is similar to a fritter. It is typically made with grated vegetables such as squash, sweet potato, carrots, and small shrimps or prawns.
The mixture is then combined with flour, cornstarch, and beaten eggs to form a batter. The batter is then spooned into hot oil and fried until golden brown and crispy. Okoy is often served with a dipping sauce made from vinegar, garlic, and chili peppers.
Pinapaitan is a popular Ilocano soup dish made with a mixture of beef or goat innards such as tripe, liver, and intestines, flavored with bile, giving it a distinctive bitter taste. Onions, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers are also used in the dish, and it is usually simmered for several hours until the meat and innards are tender and the flavors are fully developed. Pinapaitan is often served with rice and is a favorite among Filipinos who enjoy bold and flavourful dishes.
Indulge your taste buds in an extraordinary culinary experience with Gamet Empanada! Crafted with the rare and flavorful “black gold” of Burgos, this unique Empanada is made with a special purple-black seaweed that only grows in the northernmost region of Luzon. During the Northwest monsoon season, the intertidal zone is rich with this delectable ingredient, bringing a hint of nori in every bite.
Vigan City celebrates its unique and flavorful Filipino longganisa with an annual festival every year. Vigan longganisa, also known as Ilocano longganisa, is a type of Filipino pork sausage originating from Vigan City, Ilocos Sur.
The sausages are made with a delicious mix of ground lean pork, ground pork fat, brown sugar, garlic, onions, bay leaves, soy sauce, vinegar, black pepper, and salt to taste, with chili flakes added for a bit of extra kick. The sausages are encased in hog casings, giving them a unique flavor and texture.
Dinoydoy is a beloved Ilocano dish made with squash and bitter melon cooked until the squash is almost unrecognizable and usually flavored with bagoong (shrimp paste) or fish sauce. Pork pieces can also be added to give the dish a hint of smokiness.
The unique combination of sweet and savory flavors, with an overpowering bitter note, makes Dinoydoy a must-try when visiting the Ilocos region. Not only is it bursting with flavor, but it’s also a healthy and easy-to-make dish.
If you’re looking for a dessert adventure in Ilocos, you won’t want to miss out on the hidden treasure that is Bolero. Even the locals don’t know about it! After visiting Marsha’s Delicacies in Bantay, why not take a stroll down V. delos Reyes Street, just the street left of Calle Crisologo if you’re coming from the Vigan Plaza?
You’ll find the most delicious two-piece sponge cake with thick, custardy white calamay filling here. Mum’s Bakeshop is the only place that makes this scrumptious treat – so don’t miss out on this sweet opportunity!
Tinubong, a deliciously sweet and creamy traditional kakanin from Ilocos Sur, is similar to the tupig from Ilocos Norte and Pangasinan. Made with sticky rice, grated coconut, coconut milk, sugar, and strips of coconut, the dessert is placed in a bolo tube before it is cooked over a pugon (kiln) or charcoal.
The name itself is a testament to its Ilocano origin, derived from the term “tubong” which means an internode of a bamboo. A bite of this sweet treat is sure to be a memorable experience!
The unique aroma of Ilocano Dudol is a distinctive part of the culture of Ilocos. It is made of diket rice flour, coconut milk, and sugarcane juice and requires a unique technique.
The ingredients must be stirred over a slow fire, without pausing, in order to achieve the perfect flavor and aroma. If the mixture is stirred too quickly or left to simmer, it will burn and ruin the taste and scent of the dessert. Making a good dudol requires patience, but the result is well worth the effort.
Sapsapuriket is an exotic and flavorful traditional Ilocano dish. The chicken is cooked in its own blood, giving it a unique dark color and a rich, savory flavor. Coconut milk, garlic, onions, ginger, and other seasonings are added to the broth to create a spicy soup perfect for special occasions. If you’re looking for a unique and delicious experience, Sapsapuriket is a must-try for anyone exploring authentic Ilocano cuisine.
If you’re looking for a crunchy and savory snack, you’ve got to try crispy Bagbagis! This Ilokano dish, also known as crispy isaw or chicharon bituka, is made with deep-fried pork intestines that are so crispy and crunchy you won’t be able to get enough.
Buridibud is a unique and flavorful Ilocano vegetable soup dish that is made with sweet potatoes, bitter gourd, moringa fruit, eggplant, and pea shoots, cooked in a savory chicken stock with garlic, ginger, and onion, and simmered until the sweet potatoes are soft and melt into the soup, giving it a thick and creamy texture.
Bagoong monamon (fermented anchovy paste) is added for a delicious salty-savory flavor, and prawns and pea shoots give it a crunchy texture. Buridibud is a healthy and hearty meal, perfect for those who want to experience the authentic flavors of Ilocano cuisine.
Ilocano Food Culture
Ilocano cuisine is known for its bold flavors and unique ingredients deeply rooted in the region’s culture and history. The Ilocanos are known for their frugality and resourcefulness, reflected in their cuisine. They use simple and readily available ingredients, such as vegetables, fish, and meat, to create flavorful and hearty dishes.
Food Trip in Ilocos
Ilocos is a food lover’s paradise, with a wide variety of dishes that are sure to satisfy any palate. The region is famous for its bagnet, a deep-fried pork dish that is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Other must-try dishes include pinakbet, a vegetable stew made with bitter melon, eggplant, and squash, and dinengdeng, a fish and vegetable soup flavored with bagoong (fermented fish sauce).
Visitors can also indulge in Ilocano street food, such as okoy (deep-fried shrimp and vegetable fritters) and empanada (a pastry filled with meat, vegetables, and eggs). Tupig (a sticky rice cake flavored with coconut milk and sugar) and bibingka (a rice cake made with coconut milk and topped with cheese and salted egg) are must-try desserts for sweet tooths.
The Staples of Ilocano Food
Ilocano cuisine is known for its simplicity and use of fresh ingredients. The staples of Ilocano food include rice, vegetables, and meat. Rice is a staple food in the Philippines, and Ilocanos are no exception. They consume rice with almost every meal, often served with different viands or ulam.
Onions, garlic, and ginger are commonly used in Ilocano dishes to add flavor and aroma. These ingredients are usually sauteed in oil before adding the meat or vegetables. Bagoong, a fermented fish or shrimp paste, is a common ingredient in Ilocano cuisine. It is used as a seasoning for dishes such as pinakbet and dinengdeng.
Vegetables are a significant part of Ilocano cuisine. Ilocanos are known for their love of vegetables and have many dishes featuring different vegetable types. Some popular vegetable dishes include pinakbet and dinengdeng. These dishes are made with a combination of vegetables such as bitter melon, eggplant, okra, and squash.
Coconut milk is another staple ingredient in Ilocano cuisine. It adds flavor and creaminess to dishes such as ginataang langka or jackfruit cooked in coconut milk. Water is also an essential ingredient in Ilocano cuisine. It is used to cook rice, soups, and stews.
Cooking Techniques in Ilocano Cuisine
Ilocano cuisine is heavily influenced by its geography and climate, resulting in the use of local ingredients and cooking methods.
One of the most commonly used cooking techniques in Ilocano cuisine is grilling. Grilling is used to cook a variety of meats and seafood, including pork, chicken, fish, and squid. The grilled dishes are often mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and pepper before being cooked over an open flame. The marinade helps to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor.
Another popular cooking technique in Ilocano cuisine is sautéing. Sautéing is used to cook a variety of vegetables and meats, including eggplant, bitter gourd, and pork. The ingredients are typically sautéed in a mixture of oil, garlic, and onions until they are tender and flavorful.
In addition to grilling and sautéing, Ilocano cuisine also uses a variety of sauces and condiments to enhance the flavors of dishes. One of the most commonly used condiments is sukang Iloko, a vinegar made from sugarcane juice. Sukang Iloko is used to add acidity and tanginess to dishes, and it is often paired with grilled meats and seafood.
Bagoong, a fermented fish or shrimp paste, is another common condiment in Ilocano cuisine. Bagoong is used to add saltiness and umami flavor to dishes and is often paired with vegetables and seafood.
Coconut milk is also a common ingredient in Ilocano cuisine, and it is used to add richness and creaminess to dishes. Coconut milk is often used in curries and stews, and it pairs well with a variety of meats and vegetables.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some popular Ilocano snacks?
Ilocano cuisine offers a wide variety of snacks that are both delicious and unique. Some of the most popular Ilocano snacks include Bagnet Chips, Chichacorn, and Tupig. Bagnet Chips are made from thinly sliced bagnet (deep-fried pork belly) that are then deep-fried until crispy. Chichacorn is a crunchy snack made from corn kernels that are seasoned with garlic and salt. Tupig is a sweet sticky rice cake that is wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over charcoal.
What are some unique names of Ilocano dishes?
Ilocano cuisine has several unique names for its dishes. Some of the most interesting names include Dinakdakan, Igado, and Pinakbet. Dinakdakan is a dish made from boiled and grilled pig’s head and ears that are then mixed with onions, vinegar, and chili peppers. Igado is a dish made from pork liver, heart, and kidneys that are sautéed with onions and garlic. Pinakbet is a vegetable dish made from a variety of vegetables such as eggplant, okra, and bitter melon, that are cooked in a sauce made from bagoong (fermented fish paste).
What are some famous Ilocos Sur food delicacies?
Ilocos Sur is known for its unique and flavorful delicacies. Some of the most famous Ilocos Sur food delicacies include Vigan Longganisa, Empanada, and Bagnet. Vigan Longganisa is a type of sausage that is made from ground pork, garlic, and vinegar. Empanada is a pastry filled with meat, vegetables, and egg. Bagnet is a deep-fried pork belly that is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
What are the characteristics of Ilocano main dishes?
Ilocano main dishes are known for their simplicity and use of fresh ingredients. They are often made with a combination of meat and vegetables and are seasoned with garlic, onions, and vinegar. Ilocano main dishes are also known for their sour taste, which comes from the use of vinegar in the cooking process.
What is the most famous food in Ilocano cuisine?
The most famous food in Ilocano cuisine is Bagnet. Bagnet is a deep-fried pork belly that is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. It is often served with rice and a dipping sauce made from vinegar, soy sauce, and chili peppers. Bagnet is a staple in Ilocano cuisine and is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
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