In our quest for good food, our stomachs led us to the Melting Pot of the Northern Philippines, Isabela. The place is more of a hotpot if you ask us, considering its vast food options. Also known as the Rice Bowl of the North and the Corn Capital of the Philippines, it’s a true foodie’s paradise.
We toured the second largest province in the country, accompanied by public servant Inno Dy, with his buddies Mykee and Angelo, to have a taste of Isabela’s best. Here are some of the must-tries, from authentic pancit to Ibanag delicacies:
The Pancit Cabagan is among the most celebrated dishes in Isabela. It’s miki or flat noodles cooked in a rich broth topped with pork tenderloin and veggies. The modern version has Lechon Carajay (crispy slices of pork belly cooked in a wok), and hard-boiled quail eggs. Cabagan KCJM Panciteria in brgy. Ugad Cabagan, Maharlika, serves one of the best in the area.
If it’s comfort food you’re looking for, Aling Luring’s Gotohan and Serkele is the place to be. Located in in 14 Mayor T. Dalupang Street, Cauayan City, 3305, they serve hearty meals like Serkele, a type of dinuguan slash sinigang that uses beef innards, best paired with puto; and Lugaw or rice porridge with stewed ox tripe, that works well with fried tofu, among others.
Lisas is a unique seasonal fish found in Isabela. It is the second most expensive fish. The first is Ludong.
The vegetable soup Inabraw is the Ilocano version of what others may know as dinengdeng or laswa. It has string beans, eggplant, okra, saluyot (jute leaves) and ampalaya (bitter melon) flavoured with fermented fish sauce and sometimes etag (a type of dried and salted pork/meat) usually served with fried fish.
When passing by Cabatuan, Kuya Raymund’s Kambingan in Brgy. Culasi West, is worth the visit. Some of the dishes they serve are the Imbaliktad, Ilocano half-cooked stir fried goat, Papaitan, spicy-bitter traditional stew of goat innards, and their best seller, the Adobong Kambing, fried goat ribs marinated in soy sauce, garlic, and black peppercorns.
Since we’re talking about meat, Aling Belen’s Longganisa is among the most popular places in the province, to get minced pork meat encased in pig intestine. It comes in two variants, classic (garlicky) and spicy. The stall is located in Primark Town Center Cauayan, 45 Pan-Philippine Hwy, Cauayan, 3305.
As a major producer of corn and rice, there’s an abundance of sticky rice treats here.
The Binallay is native rice cake with latik or coconut sauce and curd. It’s a religious food believed to symbolize the body and blood of Christ. Inatata is a smaller suman which others call bala-bala, as it resembles a magazine of bullets strung together. The Pasalubong Center in Brgy. Calamagui, 2nd Multipurpose Hall, Ilagan City, offers these two.
Moriecos, on the other hand, is suman stuffed with latik originally from Cabatuan. For authentic and quality moriecos, get them at Francing’s Moriecos and Native Delicacies, in Tol Village, Saranay, Cabatuan.
Don’t miss Cauayan City’s Cassava Cheese Roll, a dessert made from grated cassava, glutinous rice, coconut milk, and cheese. It’s a tiny bomb of delightful sweetness.
If you’re looking for a unique food item to take home, Isabela, is proud to produce and market Munggo Products. They sell chips, flours, noodles, coffee, and other consumables made from the annual bean. One of the stores that offer these is the Galing San Mateo Pasalubong Center (GSMP), Public Market, in San Mateo.