When I lived in Ilocos Norte in the early 1980s, at around 6 p.m. I would take my 400-cc motorcycle and drive to the next town of Laoag after a day’s exposure to the smell of tons and tons of tomatoes. This was my form of relaxation.
In Laoag I would sometimes watch the basketball leagues organized by a young, hardworking mayor named Rudy Fariñas.
Weird but creative
There wasn’t much street food then except for a stall that sold the now famous Ilocos empanada at the junction of Laoag’s main road and the one that led to the town of Bacarra.
I thought the empanada’s combination of ingredients was a bit weird but very creative. Its taste soon grew on me.
I fell in love with this Ilocano delicacy. But the only time I could have it was when I went to the province. Every so often, I would go back for shooting competitions or just a visit. Then I’d get two versions: the Laoag version at Dap-ayan food center and the one from Batac called Glory’s.
More than a decade ago, friends Carol Halili and her business partner Ernie Cabanos opened an empanadahan along Katipunan Road in Quezon City.
Today it’s still there and doing well.
I believe this version is a Laoag version. I would grab one and reminisce about the simple life in the north. The empanadahan also sells ready-to-cook lumpiang ubod that is delicious, with sukang Iloko and minced garlic.
Now many versions have sprouted all over the metropolis. Most are from Ilocos Norte, while some are from Ilocos Sur.
I prefer the one from Norte. The Ilocos Sur version uses cabbage while the Norte’s, green papaya.
My daily route is to drop by our Wooden Spoon restaurant in Katipunan before heading to our Rockwell branch, and most recently another stop—our new Pasig branch in Kapitolyo.
Test of quality
While stuck in traffic, one looks around and sees new establishments along the way. One sign jumped out to me. Driving along Katipunan coming from Ateneo, toward Boni Serrano or White Plains, a sign read: “Balay Ti Empanada.”
When I first set my eyes on it, the place was still being built. Then one day, on my way home, I noticed it was already open. I drove all the way to the overpass on Aurora and made a U-turn just to sample this version.
Many empanada stalls have opened, and I must say they are good but far from the original I remember.
The test of quality for me is that if I like it, I eat two empanada pieces.
Balay Ti Empanada is a well- lit restaurant with an “imported” lady empanada maker supervising it. Interesting to watch how this expert molds, puts the filling and fries the delicacy. Yummy! It reminds me of the original Batac version.
Ilocos empanada is made of an orange-color ground rice crust with a filling of cooked munggo, shredded green papaya, raw whole egg, and shredded and toasted longganisa. Sealed on the sides using a plastic platito, this is deep-fried until crunchy.
When done, this version’s egg is malasado, and the combination will send you to heaven. I had not only two that day, I also ordered the miki—a bit bland I thought in the beginning compared to what I remembered it to be.
Janet’s in the Batac food complex makes a great version of this. This one didn’t have the orange color I was used to but, my gosh, when I put a spoonful of miki in my spoon with the hot soup and doused it with sukang Iloko with all the sili, this baby came to life. The key is the spicy sukang Iloko.
I spoke to Efren, the owner, who has since restored the original orange look. I love it. I pass by this place at least twice a week and have two of the special empanadas.
I tried the other Ilocano dishes like the poqui poqui. This is grilled eggplant, mashed, and sautéed with egg and onions. One can smell the aroma of the charcoal. What a winner! Other dishes such as igado, pinakbet, bagnet with KBL (kamatis, bagoong at lasona or spring onions) were also available
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to try these, because I always end up having two special empanadas—plus take-home. This will certainly make you think of your loved one. It’s that good.
Balay Ti Empanada is at 193 Katipunan Ave. cor. Rajah Matanda St., Blue Ridge, Project 4, Quezon City; tel. 9131341. Follow the author at sandydaza.blogspot.com; @sandydaza on Twitter