By Gene Gonzales
During one of our ocular visits to a prospective client, we were amazed at the varied food finds that what one could have while visiting Vigan. We were lucky enough to stay at the heritage sites, booked as we were in one of the best-situated hotels called Vigan Plaza Hotel, which is literally in front of the plaza.
Since we arrived rather late, it was good to find a pleasurable listing of Ilocos specialties on offer at the hotel’s Cafe Bigaa. We sampled a series of dishes that were quite representative of Vigan. I liked the idea of a meal set that was served before us that seemed to revolve around Ilocos flavors. It contained pinakbet (which authentically uses fermented fish bagoong), and
Another curiously textural vegetable dish was
After the filling dinner, we decided to go around the heritage site and marvel at the dramatic lighting of the cobblestone streets and beautifully refurbished houses. Many of these are residences with lodging facilities and others have been converted into restaurants. We did go and have a nightcap at one of the more well-known bars and had some subzero beers with a serving
I took an early morning walk on the plaza that was just waking up and saw the empanada stands just getting their stalls ready. I was led by my nose to the earliest opened stall that had a giant stockpot on woodfire with several uniformed employees relishing a typical Ilocano breakfast of a soup of boiled tender offal soured by the seasonal kamias, or tamarind in other months.
I had to return to the hotel, giving the stalls more time to fully open while we did our market visits. But before that breakfast, I was in a place called First Sinanglao that had built its reputation on
We visited four nearby Ilocos Sur markets and ended up in the Vigan Public Market. Although Vigan has a coastline, it was a surprise to find that the first two markets nearest La Union had a good selection of seafood. All markets had an amazing variety of vegetables. Aside from the pinakbet assortment, we found vegetables unique to Ilocano cooking like
Fresh beans were taken from their pods, such as lima-beans and pigeon peas, also abound. What we found quite amazing were the varieties of seaweed available in all the markets. Several varieties of sargassum or sea grapes from large to minute were available, even one that tasted of wasabi. There was a red laver that is not only eaten raw but is also used in
By the time we returned to the Vigan Plaza, the stalls were bustling with people having their fill of empanadas and
On the road out of Vigan, we made a quick stopover to Barangay Capangpangan and visited Shielito’s bagnet and longganisa factory. This time we were treated to crisp pork jowls, among the most iconic Vigan’s dishes. We could hear the crunch in our heads, as we sampled and bought the treats for our journey back home.
Banner photo courtesy of Bong Flores.
The original article was first published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.