The region of Ilicos Norte in the Philippines is renowned for its tasty and traditional cuisine, whether it is a quick snack from a street vendor or fine dining at the La Preciosa restaurant in Laoag. La Preciosa features a ground floor pastry shop renowned for its mouth watering cakes and garners fabulous accolades for its generous portions of carrot cake, along with other excellent choices such as blueberry cheesecake and moist chocolate cake.
The restaurant itself is famous for serving some of the very best Ilocano cuisine which naturally includes an excellent traditional bagnet and poqui poqui. Other must-try dishes are the crab and corn soup, the salted egg bagnet and the crispy dinguan.
Ilocano cuisine has a very regional taste distinguished by its bitter flavors. Ingredients such as bitter melon, winter melon, horseradish, papaya, Perris lemon, gourd and chili peppers contribute to its reputation. Pork and fish dishes are prevalent, alongside dishes created from the freshest local vegetables, making generous use of string beans, eggplants, sweet potatoes, lima beans, okra, oyster mushrooms and tomatoes.
Pork dishes are not restricted to traditional cuts of meat and often include innovative ways with the innards. Probably the most popular regional dish is bagnet, a deep-fried pork dish that originated as a means of preserving the meat. Cuts such as belly pork are deep-fried in lard to produce the crispiest of skins.
Bagnet also appears as an ingredient in the famous dish of dinguan, a stew of pork blood with crispy chunks of bagnet. Another local delicacy based on pork is longannasia sausage stuffed into an intestine wrap, flavored with a marinade of garlic and sugarcane vinegar.
Naturally La Preciosa serves up wonderful empanadas, the traditional stuffed pastry deep-fried with a filling of ground pork meat mixed with egg, garlic, mung beans and grated papya. Empanandas are immediately recognizable by their bright orange exterior made from rice flour and orange food coloring and the Ilocano versions are distinct from the empanandas made in the rest of the Philippines.
Both fresh and dried fish are used extensively in Ilocano cuisine. Some of the most popular fish dishes are Paksiw na Bangus which is milkfish cooked with eggplants and ginger, steamed tilapia fish, Ginataang Isda fish cooked in coconut milk, and tamales na galunggong, a dish of steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves.
Popular vegetable dishes abound too on the local menus of the region. These include dinengdeng, a vegetable soup; string beans known as utong, poqui poqui grilled eggplant salad, and the tasty pinakbet, a vegetable stew cooked in shrimp paste filled with eggplant, bitter gourd, okra and squash, and flavored with garlic, onions and ginger. Vegetarian visitors to the region will not be disappointed with the wide range of healthy vegetable based dishes to choose from and can indulge in the refreshing local fresh fruits.
There is even the opportunity for tourists to sample fresh dragon fruit, a cactus style fruit that has become an iconic symbol of the region. Those with an adventurous palette will find Ilocano cuisine a tasty delight, whether they are sampling a snack from a street vendor or sitting down to a meal of fine dining.