Most of the items that have made it big in the metropolis originated from the province. In the ’70s, a good friend of mine, Mario Tayag, took me to Aling Lucing’s Sisig, then along the railroads of Angeles, and whispered to me, “Pare, ito, puputok sa Manila.”
A few decades later, almost all Pinoy restaurants and beer houses now serve Aling Lucing’s version of sisig.
Lechon manok, meanwhile, originated in the Visayas, as well as Bacolod chicken, La Paz batchoy, panga ng tuna and a few others.
In the ’80s, we started and operated Northern Foods Corp. in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte. It is a tomato-paste plant that still operates to this day. Tomatoes grow in the warm days and cool nights of October to February in that province.
Every afternoon after sunset, I would take my motorcycle from Sarrat and drive in the chilly night to the nearby town of Laoag and watch the basketball league that was organized by then mayor Rudy Fariñas. This was my simple joy after seeing tons of tomatoes and smelling the aroma of spaghetti sauce all day.
Around the basketball courts were brightly lit carts of kropek, popcorn and this bright-orange delicacy called Tacos Ti Amianan or Ilocos empanada. I watched many manang make this northern specialty. The orange crust is made of rice flour and orange coloring. Inside this delicious snack are sauteed and flavored green papaya and cooked mongo, cooked and crumbled longganisa and a raw egg.
The golf ball-size dough is rolled flat and all this filling is put inside. A platito is used to seal the sides, then it is slipped into hot oil to deep-fry until the crust is crunchy and the egg is cooked.
I would take a small bite at the tip just to release the heat a bit, then grab one of the bottles of sukang Iloko with loads of onions and crushed sili and drizzle the opening of the empanada. A bite would make you sigh in satisfaction. I still remember taking my first bite. It wasn’t that great an experience, but that thing grew on you.
Today, whenever I get empanada attacks, I get into my car and drive like a possessed zombie to wherever I can find one. There is a difference, by the way, between the Ilocos Norte and Sur empanadas. I prefer the one from the North—same filling as the south’s, but different longganisa used. Laoag sausage is more sour than the darker, firmer and mildly sweet Batac version.
This Ilocano specialty has reached the metropolis. BF in Parañaque has become food hub, and just recently, I dropped by an Ilocos Empanada stall along Aguirre Street. It offers the Laoag version. Same taste, crunchy crust, hot filling with the aroma of mung beans, grated green papaya, smoked longganisa and cooked egg. With a little spicy vinegar, it will make you drive back to this place regularly.
This version brings me back to the basketball courts of Laoag. It’s the exact match for my constant cravings. The Ilocos Empanada brand was the first to set up in Manila, and is a collaboration of friends Carol Halili and her then partner Ernie Cabanos of San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte.
With the success of Ilocos Empanada in Manila, expect many others like it to follow.
Ilocos Empanada is at 40 D, Aguirre St., BF Homes Parañaque. It is the only empanada stall in the South. Call 4758502.