Why You'll Never Get Skinny in Ilocos Norte

Besides its rich history and culture, Ilocos Norte is also famous for its homegrown gustatory delights. In our recent visit to the province, we checked out some dining spots that are definitely worth all the calories.

Saramsam Ylocano Restaurant
10 Giron St. Brgy. 7-B, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte

From the Ilocano  word "saramsam" which means informal or casual dining, this restaurant is definitely a must-go restaurant in Laoag, especially if you are craving for affordable and authentic Ilocano dishes such bagnet (crispy pork belly), dinardaraan (dinuguan;pork blood stew), poqui-poqui (an eggplant dish) and pinakbet (sauteed vegetables) as well as some Westernized concoctions like dinardaraan pizza,  chorizo de Laoag pasta, and many more. Saramsam is located within the equally famous Balay da Blas Pensionne House on Giron Street, and is rated one of the best Ilocano restaurants in the city. The ambiance is very old world and laid-back. To be honest, this is my favorite as I feel it is far better than La Preciosa in terms of food, service, and ambiance.

Getting insde Saramsam

Our favorite corner
What we ordered
The menu is concise and easy to decipher so we did not have a hard time figuring out what to order. While the authentic Ilocano dishes on the menu are just as tempting, Saramsam, more than anything else, is lauded for its pizzas and pastas infused with an Ilocano twist. For lunch, we ordered chorizo de Laoag pasta (linguini with bits of local pork and garlic chorizo in homemade marinara sauce) which was perfectly al dente and oozing with flavours, and dinardaraan pizza (thin crust pizza smothered with a tomato-based sauce and molten mozzarella topped with chunky bits of pork stewed in blood. This might not be appealing to the not-so-adventurous, but to us, it sounds interesting so we gave it a try. It was surprisingly delicious--the gooey cheese balances the stark pork blood stew. It could have been even better if they made the pork crispier (like bagnet).

Chorizo de Laoag Pasta (Php 155)
Dinardaraan Pizza (Small-Php 185/Large-Php 345)
Since we were staying at Balay da Blas, Saramsam's parent pension house, the free breakfast was served here, too. I had Filipino breakfast composed of Laoag longganisa (local sausage), plain rice, and scrambled eggs, while hubby had American breakfast complete with bread, bacon, sunny side up eggs and dragon fruit (another Ilocano favourite). The longganisa was soooooo good! Its garlicky, tangy taste with a hint of local vinegar is just so irresistible! The dragon fruit in this part of the world is pretty in magenta instead of the usual stark white. Hubby said it's sweeter!

Filipino breakfast: Laoag longganisa, rice, eggs
American breakfast: bacon, eggs, bread, and dragon fruit
Dragon fruit up close
Heirloom cups and saucers
Saramsam/Balay da Blas' al fresco dining area

La Preciosa
J.P. Rizal Street, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte

Perhaps the most touristy restaurant in Laoag City, this old house turned into a dining spot is drawing crowds of all sorts--from students on a field trip to families and friends who are just having a leisure tour of Ilocos, to balikbayans and locals. 

The facade

Second floor dining hall
What we ordered
It was dinner time when we went to eat at La Preciosa, and by that time, we were already bursting with longganisa and bagnet...to say the least. We could have ordered its famous poqui-poqui (sautéed eggplant) and pinakbet (vegetable medley in fish or shrimp sauce) but we were set on trying its version of crispy dinardaraan just so we can compare it with the equally famous crispy dinuguan of Kanin Club in Manila. We also read online that Ilocos, particularly in Batac, is known for its delectable, piping hot miki (noodle soup topped with egg and pork rind), and when we saw it on La Preciosa's menu, we said we'll give it a try.

Miki Special (Php 86)
The miki special was served first. It was steaming hot, thick and rich, and the fresh handmade egg noodles were a bit overcooked and soggy. The broth is a bit bland if not for the chunks of pork rind on it.

Crispy Dinardaraan (Php 195)
Now, our verdict on La Preciosa's legendary crispy dinardaraan: first off, unlike our old-time favorite crispy dinuguan in Kanin Club, this version has less sauce, so for us who love to drown our rice on rich, flavorful pork blood stew sauce, this is a downer. Next, the chunks of pork or bagnet is less fatty and less crisp. At Kanin Club, the pork chunks are literally chicharon-like, which we love so much--that crunch (and oozing oil) at first bite is just so sinful! Bottomline, this dish is worth checking out but if you love Kanin Club's as much as we do, you might be a bit disappointed.

Ferrero Cake
The Ferrero Cake was so-so, but there's a wide array of choices, so you might want to try another dessert.

Glory's Empanada
Batac City, Ilocos Norte

Okay, don't get confused--there's Glory's and there's Glomy's  empanada (longganisa, mongo, green papaya, and egg wrapped in a crispy shell) both in the same area near the Ferdinand Marcos Museum and the church in Batac. Glory's Empanada was founded by the legendary Gloria Aduana Cocson who started making meat wraps at a young age. Little did she know that what she thought was just a small business born out of her passion for cooking will become her ladder to fame. To date, her empanada remains one of the bestsellers in Batac. Glomy's, on the hand, is reportedly a favorite of the Marcoses, especially of Congresswoman Imee Marcos.

I don't eat papaya but for some reason, I enjoyed Glory's empanada so much! The contrast between the flavors of the longganisa and papaya is just perfect.

Sukang Iloko (local vinegar) or banana ketchup? I prefer the latter.

Glory's Special Empanada

The making of Glory's empanada
Mami Bel's Miki
Batac City, Ilocos Norte

Since we were a bit disappointed at La Preciosa's version of Miki, we asked our guide, Kuya Jonas Penaranda (a.k.a. Bumblebee), to bring us to where we can eat authentic miki in Batac. He then brought us to a row of stalls serving miki just across the empanadahan. There! That's what we were looking for! Freshly handmade noodles in a flavorful broth topped with large bits of pork rind, chives, and egg. It was so worth it at Php 25 per bowl!

Batac Miki
Bagnet and Longganisa at Laoag Market
As if all the bagnet we had in almost all the restos and eateries we've been to in Ilocos Norte, we were still so tempted when we saw these huge slabs of crispy pork at the city's public market. It is sold at Php 450 per kilo and is best given as pasalubong. These are ready-to-eat but you can reheat it in the oven for a few seconds if you want it crispier. Alongside bagnet are bagbagis (pork intestines) and Laoag's own version of garlicky longganisa.

As a last stop, we went to the side halls of the Laoag public market to score some native snacks to bring home. Of course, our top-of-mind option was chichacorn (deep fried corn kernels sauteed with garlic, salt or both. We also got some garlic-flavored taro chips which were just so-so.

Now, let me ask you: do you think you won't gain weight in this part of Luzon? Well, I bet you, you'll never get skinny here! Ilocos Norte's culinary delights may be sinfully iresistible but in the end, it's all worth it.

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