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Gastronomical Ilocos, Part 1
Tourism can be defined as the collective attraction of a certain place complemented by established facilities to better enjoy what it offers. Then said, the tourist attraction of a place would not therefore be complete without discussing or experiencing first-hand the food native to the place.
Food is a vital part of a certain culture. It is one of the forms of expressions of a unique people. It reflects the resources the place has and reveals the ingenuity of its inhabitants. One such culinary realm is Ilocos in Northern Philippines.
One virtue of Ilocano cooking is its simplicity. Its flavors are both sweet and spicy and the taste, fresh and simple. What’s more, it uses the freshest produce to make delicious dishes whose names sound funny and naughty among non-Ilocanos.
This includes the world famous (among Filipinos) pinakbet, a vegetable stew using the skinniest utong (stringbean) and puqui-puqui, an Ilocano variation of eggplant omelet with lots of sliced tomatoes, red onions and eggs.
The tail end of the monsoon season in this northwesternmost part of Luzon and the onset of autumn brings out the natural beauty of Ilocos Norte. Unlike the oppressive tropical heat that radiates over this region most of the year, the light afternoon rains and nippy clime in the morning makes visitors feel more comfortable.
But feasting on unfamiliar regional fare no matter what the season is always a mouth-watering experience.
“Ilocano dishes are appealing because their colors are bright and appetizingly vibrant,” explains Executive Sous Chef Roger Ronquillo of the Western Kitchen of Fort Ilocandia resort in Laoag City, the only deluxe hotel in Northern Luzon, “ Their presentation is an intricate interplay of flavors, colors and texture that pleases all the senses.
“An example of a local vegetable dish, which is relatively known to non-Ilocanos, is baradibud, a vegetable stew in sweetpotato brith,” the 50-year old Ronquillo says. “Its ingredients are diced lasona (small, native red onions), diced tomato, patani (lima beans), crushed ginger, bagnet (Ilocano chicharon) anchovy sauce, utong tops, squash tops and flowers.
“To cook this, you place all the ingredients together, including the anchovy sauce in an earthen pot,” says Ronquillo, whose work as sous chef in the grand five-star resort hotel includes creating new dishes, directing proper food presentation, and concocting all kinds of sauces. “After bringing it to a boil, reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for about 20 minutes then it’s ready to eat.”