I migrated to the United States in 2013 to be with my husband, Rick, and our children Mika and Miguel. I was hired a year later as an adult-education specialist at Torrance Adult School in Los Angeles and worked there for five years. The work was very fulfilling because every day was different, and I loved that I was able to help students and teachers.My husband and I are both Ilocanos; he’s from Vigan in Ilocos Sur while my family is from Laoag, Ilocos Norte. We had already been in the United States for several years but we still couldn’t find authentic-tasting Vigan longganisa.
One day, I came home with a package of store-bought longganisa, one that we already tried before and didn’t like. We were hoping that somehow, magically, it would taste like our own longganisa back home. Of course, we were disappointed—again.It’s a cliché, but necessity really is the mother of invention. We thought, “Why don’t we just make our own?” We didn’t know it then but this would lead to the small business that we have now.
Experimented for a year
Rick grew up knowing what Vigan longganisa tastes like. He developed the recipe we have now from ones shared by friends whose families have been in the longganisa business for decades.We researched and talked to a lot of knowledgeable friends who were very generous and helpful. We experimented for more than a year before we were satisfied with the product. That meant there was a time when we had longganisa for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Because we had so much overrun of longganisa mixture from our countless experiments, we had to find a way to use it so it wouldn’t go to waste. That’s how the longganisa lumpia was born, and why we called our business Pinoy Sa-Wrap. So, really, the lumpia came before the longganisa.
At first, it was something we did on the side—after our respective day jobs—but then it became too tiring and stressful. My husband was the first to quit his job to focus full-time on our business; I followed suit a few months later.
We discovered that we could make twice what we were making before, which was great because our orders kept growing and growing. Although we were now working seven days a week, it wasn’t as stressful as before because we had the whole day to work, and we could rest whenever we wanted.We registered as an LLC (limited liability company), applied for our trademarks, and completed our food safety certifications and state and local licenses.
For now, we really want to focus on Vigan longganisa as our flagship product. It was just a stroke of luck—and a lot of Ilocano ingenuity—that we came up with the longganisa lumpia, but it was a huge hit with Filipinos and non-Pinoys alike. Our mission is to make traditional Ilocano food accessible to Filipinos in the United States, as well as introduce it to other cultures.
Our hope is that when people think of Vigan longganisa and longganisa lumpia, they will think of Pinoy Sa-Wrap. As we become more established, we will also be introducing other traditional Ilocano dishes like bagnet, empanada, miki and sinanglao. Right now, we are experimenting on offering a revolving list of dishes on our weekly menu.
We started with the combo meal, which highlights the Vigan longganisa and the longganisa lumpia. It’s a perfect sampler of our main products. We also have the turmeric arroz caldo topped with crumbled longganisa, which we believe is a first of this variation here or abroad.
The nice thing about getting into a business with your spouse is that everything just sort of falls into place naturally. Our kids are also a vital support system, from purchasing to packing and shipping. They’re with us for events like caravans and community fairs, and if they’re not cooking, they’re engaging with the customers.
We have a good mix of clients. Our longganisa lumpia seems to transcend cultural lines and is popular with everyone. As far as we know, no one else is making and marketing this kind of lumpia anywhere else in the United States, so the first time they taste it, their minds are blown because it just tastes so different from the usual egg roll.
Turmeric Arroz Caldo with Vigan Longganisa
3 Tbsp olive oil
10 cloves garlic, chopped
Thumb-sized ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
Half an onion, chopped
2 lb chicken, sliced bite-size
1 c rice
1 c sweet rice or malagkit6 c chicken stock
½ tsp organic turmeric powder
1 Tbsp fish sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Toppings:Vigan longganisa meat
Green onions, sliced
Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottom pot. Add half of the garlic, ginger and onions right away and let them infuse the oil under low heat. When garlic turns light brown, take all of the aromatics out of the pot and set aside.
Turn the heat up and add the chicken. Continue to saute until it browns a little. Add rice and continue to saute until rice is coated with oil. Be careful not to burn the rice.
Add the fish sauce and chicken stock and bring to boil. Once it boils, turn the heat down to a low simmer. Make sure to stir to make sure that the rice isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Continue simmering for 30-45 minutes. Add chicken stock as needed. Stir in the turmeric powder and adjust the taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, you can boil the egg and saute the longganisa meat to preferred doneness. You can also fry the rest of the chopped garlic in butter.
Scoop a generous amount of the arroz caldo into a bowl, top with a sliced egg, some green onions, Vigan longganisa crumble and fried garlic.
—AS TOLD TO RAOUL J. CHEE KEE
Theresa Ortonio is a G.I. (genuine Ilocano) living with her husband and kids in Los Angeles, California.
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