‘Dinengdeng,’ crispy ‘dinuguan’ and other Ilocano staples | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

When work is like play, you know you are blessed.

I actually have four jobs: running the kitchens of three Wooden Spoon restaurants to make sure the recipes are done consistently; writing food reviews for Inquirer Lifestyle; do cooking demos; and hosting the TV show “Foodprints” on Lifestyle Channel.

The last three take me to various places here and abroad. For the TV show, I discover new dishes; for Inquirer Lifestyle I get invited to eat in restaurants and also try new dishes; and for the Nestlé Chef to Chef demos, I get to travel to various provinces.

In Chef to Chef, I arrive a day before the demo, food-trip on the eve of and immediately after the demo, and go home the next day. The last Chef to Chef demo, I was in Ilocos Norte, a province I was very familiar with.

I had stayed there for a few years when we put up the only operating tomato paste plant in the country in the early ’80s, Northern Foods, in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte. It is still in operation.

Usually, the Nestlé representative shows us around interesting food destinations. But in Ilocos Norte, it was my turn to tour the Nestlé team. Being all foodies, we were excited with the food adventure.

We arrived at around noon and I knew exactly where I wanted to have lunch. Java Hotel of Eric Fariñas has the most authentic and most delicious Ilocano dishes. Eric is the youngest brother of Rep. Rudy Fariñas. Being a former mayor, Rudy would do a lot of entertaining and serving delicious Ilocano food which was then totally new to me.

Their mom is a great cook and a source of many of these authentic dishes of the province. I remember being very proud to deliver a box of our very first harvest of Italian variety tomatoes to Mrs. Fariñas and Nana Mining Ablan.

Today, Eric has Java Hotel, one of the finest places to stay in Laoag. And since he is a former Ateneo basketball player, the hotel has a restaurant called Eagles Nest. (La Sallites are also welcome.) I knew I would find Mrs. Fariñas’ Ilokano dishes here.

I learned that Ferdinand Marcos’ favorite dish was Dinengdeng. I tried it in many places and never saw what was so great about it. But I was confident Eagles Nest would change my perspective.

So we ordered Dinengdeng, Poqui-Poqui, Crispy Dinuguan, Pinakbet with Bagnet and the out- of-place Baby Back Ribs.

Dinengdeng, it turned out, is a soup dish. It has the mild taste of fish bagoong in the sabaw, but with the flavor of the freshest vegetables. The one I ate was simply outstanding.

The Poqui-Poqui are charcoal-grilled mashed organic talong sauteed in garlic, onions and tomatoes, then mixed and cooked with scrambled egg. Simple-tasting, it was also outstanding.

Eagles Nest’s crispy dinuguan had a thick sauce with chicharon. Sinful but irresistible.

The Pinakbet had a subtle bagoong taste, but all the flavors were in the combined juices of the various vegetables. Ilocanos like to say that anything you’re eating was alive 24 hours ago.

The out-of-place Baby Back Ribs was also good. We went back to Eagle’s Nest before leaving Laoag.

Other places I took the group to were Dapayan where we had Alicia’s Empanada. We also went to Glory’s Empanada and Janette’s Miki’s in Batac and Dawang’s in San Nicolas—all must-see food destinations when visiting Ilocos Norte.

Places like Eagles Nest make my work fun.

Java Hotel and Eagles Nest are on Gen. Segundo Ave., 55B Salet, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. Tel. (077) 7705996 or 0917-5005282.
Visit the author’s blog www.sandydaza.blogspot.com; follow @sandydaza on Twitter.

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