Savor Ilocano cuisine at Empanada Nation

“It’s a misnomer,” quipped Lin, a franchising consultant. We were expecting only empanada, bagnet and longganisa based on its logo but the menu stated otherwise.

We started with empanada, specifically the Batac variety which has orange crust extracted from atsuete in contrast with the Vigan variety which does not use food coloring. Both varieties use longganisa, grated vegetables, and eggs but the Batac version seems to last longer. Both are best eaten fresh and hot while dipped in sukang Iloko with chopped onions. This reddish vinegar is sugar cane vinegar derived from Ilocos wine called basi. It is considered a merienda but is actually a complete meal for light eaters. For vegans, it is possible to remove the longganisa and have a vegan empanada! Sometimes the empanada is paired with miki, a noodle soup dish made with thick egg noodles, pork, and vegetables.

Ilocos Empanada

Stew, pulutan, and side dish

For a complete Ilocano meal, you can start with sinanglaw, a beef innards stew from the internal organs of a cow. This can serve to increase your appetite or a break from a drinking session.

Beer drinkers would order dinakdakan which is the equivalent of the Kapampangan sisig. This is grilled and sliced pig parts (face, ears, liver, tongue) in washed pig brain cream mixed with calamansi, ginger, onions, and chili. For some it is pulutan but for me, I eat it with rice.

As a side dish to grilled fish and meat, try poqui-poqui. This is mashed grilled eggplant and scrambled eggs added to sauteed shallots, garlic and tomatoes.



Vegan not Vigan

For vegetable lovers, pinakbet is a staple of Ilocano cuisine. It has become so popular that other regions have concocted their own kind such as Pinakbet Tagalog. It is a merry mixture of different vegetables flavored with bagoong. One only has to sing “Bahay Kubo” to get an idea of the ingredients. It can be purely vegetables or mixed with pork, shrimp, or fish. Other Ilocano dishes are dinuydoy and dinengdeng. Dinuydoy is sauteed ampalaya with squash, bagoong, and pork. Dinendeng is made up of fresh vegetables such as saluyot, malunggay, and okra in water boiled with bagoong. Pinakbet, dinuydoy, and dinengdeng can be purely vegetables if the meat and seafood are not included.



Favorite take-out would be bagnet and longganisa. Bagnet is deep fried for two to three hours making it crispy compared with the short cooking of lechon kawali. Longganisa, on the other hand, is garlicky and salty, much to my liking. Another option is King’s Meal which is comprised of bagnet, longganisa, salted egg, and KBL (kamatis, bagoong, and lasona). Also in the menu are chicken loco, peppered corn, and turones.

After a recent trip to the Ilocos Region and La Union, I have traced my Ilocano roots and rekindled my love for Ilocano cuisine. I have gotten used to Ilonggo cuisine courtesy of my Ilongga wife but my Ilocano palate sometimes longs for food from the north. The Ilocanos are proud, hardy, and frugal people. They make do with what they have. An Ilocano chef once said, “What the Ilonggos throw away, we cook and eat.” There is no wastage which makes Ilocano cuisine practical and prudent yet nutricious and appetizing.

The author (leftmost) dining in at an Empanada Nation branch.

Thank you to our gracious host, Betty Chan Ong, matriarch of the owner and franchisee of Empanada Nation for explaining to us the intricacies of Ilocano food. Empanada Nation has branches in Red Planet Amorsolo (8808-7007 / 0919-0785480), Cubao, Pasig, San Lorenzo Place, BGC, Del Monte, Valenzuela and San Juan. It is open for franchising.

JP Ordoña (Manilakad) leads Manilakad Walks in Intramuros, Binondo, Quiapo and more. Let him guide you to several walking destinations in Manila. Manilakad (Jing Ordoña) can be reached on Facebook Messenger or through text at 0916-3597888 and Viber (George Ordona) at 0960-6975930.