You may have heard of Vigan, the UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for picturesque Calle Crisologo. But have you ever tried the snacks and dishes within this historical city? Visiting Vigan is an unforgettable experience because of its rich past. The city also has a variety of restaurants and street food stalls that keep your appetite satisfied.
If you’re headed to Vigan soon, you need to know what to eat. Why settle for fast-food fare or Tagalog dishes when you can sample local cuisine?
We’ve compiled a list of must-try delicacies when in Vigan so that you can enjoy them while you’re in the heritage city. We’ve also added a few dishes that you can find across the Ilocos region.
One of the most widely known delicacies on our list is bagnet, the Ilocano lechon kawali (skillet- or oven-roasted pork belly) and even chicharon (pork rind). Unlike the lechon kawali you’d find across the Philippines, bagnet is chunkier, more delicately seasoned, and fried at least twice. The ideal bagnet is, as food writer partners Claude Tayag and Mary Ann Quioc describe in Linamnam, “super-crunchy on the outside… moist and tender on the inside.”
Pinakbet is an essential vegetable dish on any Filipino table. But did you know that the vegetable stew traces its roots to Ilocos? According to the late cultural historian and food critic Doreen Fernandez, authentic pinakbet or pakbet has native ampalaya (bittermelon), eggplant, and okra are steamed with fish bagoong (fermented shrimp or fish paste) and tomatoes. There is no oil or frying, she notes in her seminal book, Tikim.
The late cultural research and food expert Edilberto Alegre observed that Ilocanos favor bitter flavors. Pinapaitan, papaitan, or papait is an excellent example of this preference for the mapait. Pinapaitan is, to most Filipinos, an exotic goat dish flavored with bile. The seemingly unusual meal, however, is the comfort food of Ilocanos here and abroad. The greenish fluid gives a distinctive flavor and a hint of sweetness.
Pipian is a stew found only in Vigan. According to Tayag and Quioc, the pipian recipe has been traced to the traditional Mexican mole. Nevertheless, the Vigan version is made of ground rice cooked with chicken, achuete (annatto), and epazote. Vigan folk would eat the starchy dish as a snack. Today, it is served as a meaty viand with steamed rice.
Many of us have eaten bibingka, the golden rice cake topped with salted duck egg at Christmastime. But Vigan has a different take on this rice cake. Its size is smaller, its texture denser, its flavor sweeter crowned with a helping of grated cheese. Royal bibingka is more like a filling cassava cake than a fluffy puto. It’s a heavenly ending to a bittersweet Ilocano meal.
Sinanglao or sinanglaw is a breakfast soup of oxblood, beef rind, and beef innards that is then flavored with bile and kamias (an acidic fruit used for souring). The dish is closely associated with pinapaitan for its use of bile as a critical ingredient. If you’re already curious what the dish tastes like, Tayag and Quioc call it “a cross between sinigang and paksiw.”
The city of Batac in Ilocos Norte is famed for its orange-hued Ilocos empanada. Vigan in Ilocos Sur, however, has its own mouthwatering take. Foodies say there are vast differences between the northern and southern versions, not just in the crust color. Vigan empanada does not have togue or mung bean sprouts, and only egg yolk (rather than a whole egg) is added. On your next trip to Ilocos, why not try both kinds and taste the difference.
There’s longganisa, the ubiquitous native sausage, and then there’s Vigan longganisa. It’s a small and plump, salty and savory pork sausage with generous amounts of Ilocano garlic. Link upon link of this tasty treat can be found in public markets and roadside stalls. It’s frequently eaten at breakfast fried with garlic rice and eggs. Still, there are many other ways of cooking it: grilled to a char, stuffed in pan de sal, and our favorite, added to empanada.
Plan your Vigan visit on KKday
Whether you’re traveling from Manila or from Baguio, plan your journey to historical Vigan through KKday. Go on an adventure-packed day tour from Manila within 24 hours. If you prefer a more leisurely pace, though, then book a private transfer from Baguio.
*Featured image via Ivan Torres on Unsplash