When in Laoag, head to these restaurants for hearty Ilokano fare | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

I had been to Ilocos Norte many times in the past—mostly as a guest of a friend who spent a lot of time there; and as a resident of Sarrat when we were still operating the tomato paste plant Northern Foods.


I have always loved the place and the hardworking Ilokano farmers. In those days, the only hotels were Fort Ilocandia in Suba, owned by the Cabanos family in San Nicolas; and Texicano hotel in the city of Laoag.


There were hardly any restaurants, as far as I can remember.


My only exposure to Ilokano cuisine was through our talented company cook Lando, and frequent invitations from good friends in the Fariñas family.


One dish that I will always remember and now serve at Wooden Spoon is Dinakdakan, which is an Ilokano version of the Kapampangan sisig. It is broiled pork with the aroma of charcoal, chopped and mixed with kilawin flavorings. This, to me, is one of the most outstanding dishes we Filipinos can contribute in the world culinary stage.


Recently I was back in Ilocos Norte for a shootfest. I always say, “winning is not important.” At the range, there were stalls of the now famous Ilocos Empanada and another that sold bagnet and longganisa. In the two days I was there, the empanada became my breakfast. The unhealthy looking bagnet with lots of fat didn’t seem like it was attracting any of the shooters.


But by the end of the day, all that fatty “goodness” was gone. Everyone knows bagnet is not healthy, but I always wonder what excuses customers make to justify their purchase of this Ilokano dish.


On my first night, I took my friends to Dapayan where we feasted and had our appetizer of Alicias Empanada. With spicy Ilokano vinegar, it was simply delicious. We had to control our appetite because we had dinner reservations at one of the most popular restaurants in Laoag. Preciosa’s is a nice-looking Ilokano dining destination that also prides itself as one of the top bakeries of the city. We had Poqui-Poqui or grilled eggplant omelet, Igado, Pinakbet Chicharon, Crispy Dinuguan, Pansit Lusay and Gamet Omelet. We all loved everything. This place is a must-go-to when visiting the province.


We were billeted at a fairly new hotel called Java. It is a first-class hotel, reasonably priced and located very near the center of the city. It also has a restaurant called Eagle’s Nest. The name alone suggests the owner is a true-blue Atenean. Eric Fariñas was one of the basketball stars of our generation.


I was certain that the food at his restaurant would be very good. This was confirmed by other shooters who often have dinner and lunch at the place.


We always focused on the Ilokano dishes. On his menu, everything is a must-try. I tried the Sinaglaw or boiled beef brisket with innards and minced onions (similar to bulalo); Dinengdeng which I wasn’t too crazy about before, but this time tasted outstanding and healthy; Imbaliktad or stir-fried beef half-cooked with Ilokano vinegar and aromatics; Crispy Dinuguan made with chicharon bituka, super sarap; Pinakbet with Bagnet, of course; the famous Dinakdakan; and the Bagbet, which is pinakbet with equal amounts of bagnet.


One tip, never have bagnet without KBL or kamatis, bagoong and lasona or spring onions. Grabe, ang sarap.


Without this KBL, bagnet to me is ordinary. Our friend Edwin kept on saying how guilty he was about ordering this bagnet twice, so we had to help him remove his guilt by having it, too.


Bihon dinuguan is crispy dinuguan served over bihon (another specialty). Now, Eagle’s Nest has to be in my must-visit list in Ilocos.


The province has progressed by leaps and bounds, and the authentic Ilokano dishes are now in many of the restaurants. What an interesting cuisine. To me, one of the best in the country. Many ask, “why are the vegetables here so masarap?” and the answer is because they don’t use fertilizers, and restaurants serve them almost fresh from the farm.


Happy eating!


La Preciosa is at  J.P. Rizal st. Laoag City; tel. (077) 7731162, 7732159.


Java Hotel and Eagle’s Nest  restaurant is  at Fariñas Caltex Station Bacarra Road, Laoag City; tel. (077) 7705996


Visit the author’s blog at   www.sandydaza.blogspot.com; follow on Twitter @sandydaza.