Lechon manok, sisig, liempo, panga, dinakdakan, empanada—what do these dishes have in common?
All of them were a hit in their respective provinces.
I remember my friend Mario telling me when he took me to Aling Lucing’s sisig along the railroad tracks of Angeles City in the late ’70s: “Pare, maghi-hit ito sa Manila.” He was right.
I lived in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, in the early ’80s. We were then setting up the first successful tomato paste plant in the country. (It’s still operational to this day, but I have always wondered why it was never publicized. Politics, I guess?)
Every afternoon at around 6:30 p.m., I would take my Suzuki 400c bike and ride to the next town of Laoag to either watch a basketball tournament or take my merienda at a lone stall operated by a lady. It was the very first empanada stall in town, at the corner of the street that led to the other town of Bacarra.
I would watch this lady form a ball of colored rice flour dough, dip it in oil and start rolling. She would flatten that dough, add some veggies, break an egg in the middle, fold the dough, seal it with a platito, and then deep-fry it. If you wanted the special version, you paid a little more and she added mashed and cooked Laoag longganisa.
I was so taken by this provincial delicacy that I would have it a few times a week.
Many years later, the first successful Ilocos Empanada stall opened along Katipunan in Quezon City. Carol Halili and her Ilocano partner, Ernie Cabanos from the town of San Nicolas in Ilocos Norte, introduced this specialty to the city. Today, it has become one of the most popular snacks around.
There is a difference between the Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte versions. I prefer the filling of the Norte version, but prefer the crust of the Sur. Someone should make this combination.
In the province itself, there are two popular versions— Batac and Laoag. One claims to be better than the other, though they have almost the same ingredients, except the kind of longganisa used.
But I love both. With sukang Iloko and sili, the empanada is simply heaven. The younger generation uses banana catsup instead of suka, but I prefer the traditional suka.
Both versions have come to Manila and are doing well. The Batac variety can be found at Balay Ti Empanada along Katipunan across Blue Ridge in Quezon City, while the Laoag version is what is served at Fariñas Empanada.
When Fariñas Empanada first opened along Katipunan in White Plains, I was one of the first customers—and I came away disappointed. It looked messy and the taste was nothing great. It was a poor representation of what I remember the empanada to be.
I pass that stall almost every day going to and coming home from work, and I began noticing more and more customers. Open 24 hours, it had people coming in even in the wee hours of the morning.
One evening, we had a craving for empanada and I wanted to go to Balay Ti Empanada. It was closed, I had no choice but to go for the Fariñas version.
Boy, was I glad I went. I watched how the empanada was made, and what a pleasant surprise this time. The crust was expertly rolled, the veggie filling was made into a well, a fresh egg was cracked in the middle and two pieces of Laoag longganisa were flaked on top. Sealed and still cut with a platito, it was then deep-fried.
Piping hot, it was one of the best-tasting empanada I have ever tasted, either here or in Ilocos Norte. The crust was crunchy, without holes, the filling of sauteed green and shredded papaya with yellow mongo was hot, and the egg and longganisa were a beautiful combination.
I loved it so much, I went back to get some for my hungry kids (I love getting my kids surprise snacks). While I liked the version with one egg and two longganisa, Arturo, my son, wanted the same but with bagnet. It was good, too.
So I’m taking back what I said about Fariñas Empanada. The only downside is, your clothes smell after eating inside the stall. But I really don’t mind that; it’s all worth it.
Fariñas Empanada is along Katipunan in White Plains, Quezon City. Call 4349042.