Ilocano Cuisine (Part 1)

Ilocos is located at the northern most part of the Philippines. The area is very mountainous and prone to typhoons. In the past it took very long travels to get grocery supplies from the main cities. Today even with better road conditions it still takes around 10 hours to get to Ilocos from Manila via land. So Ilocanos are known to be the thriftiest race in the country. Their food is not heavy on thick sauces or rich in condiments. They use ingredients that are abundant in their surroundings and they keep their food simple. In fact Ilocano cuisine is very reflective of the four foundation cooking methods of Filipino cuisine. These methods are boiling, grilling, roasting and steaming. These were the basic cooking methods of our ancestors before the foreign influences on our food.

Based on MY perception Ilocano cuisine is surprisingly delicious, exotic and at the same time it is the most intriguing of all the regional cuisines in the Philippines. I say intriguing for the following reasons:

1. For someone who is not Ilocano and the does not speak the dialect, the dishes have very funny sounding names.
2. The ingredients used like intestines, bile, lots of liver, tripe, kidneys, crickets, cow’s skin, ant eggs, dog, maybe a bit unusual for the regular palette.
3. Most dishes are soupy instead of saucy. From a technical point of view- they make minimal use thickening agents like rice flour, flour or roux.
4. They use a lot of local leafy vegetables, vegetable blossoms, and if not handled properly can easily be overcooked.
5. Some of the dishes can even look unappetizing but when you try them…they can taste so good !
6. They have cooking techniques from their ancestors that they are not telling us. When the execution of their dish is prepared by a native, even something as dis-likable as liver can taste so heavenly!

As an observation, the two most popular condiments used are bagoong called aramang  (fish/shrimp sauce or paste) and Ilocos vinegar. Ilocano vinegar has a higher concentration of acidity compared to commercially produced palm vinegar. Another distinct flavor found in the dishes of this region is bitterness. This is attributed to their love for ampalaya (bitter gourd or bitter melon) and the sparing use of bile (bitter-tasting fluid found in the gallbladder of goats or cattle) on their dishes.The most common vegetables in this region are eggplants, tomatoes, upo, amplaya, okra, malunggay, saluyot, and various varieties of beans..saluyot

The most popular Ilocano vegetable dish that has gained popularity all over the country is pinakbet. Pinakbet is the Filipino version of ratatouille. It is a vegetable stew of eggplants, string beans, bitter gourd (amplaya), and okra. The real Ilocano version uses small round eggplants and baby ampalaya. Ilocano pinakbet uses the condiment bagoong isda (fish sauce) to season the dish. Pinakbet in other regions south of the

Philippines bagoong(shrimp paste) is used and squash is added.

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } Other Ilocano vegetables:
Beans (left to right) Kumpitis, parda, alukonCardis – where our green peas come fromPatani- also know as lima beans

Katuray – can also be used in a vinaigrette salad

Popular Ilocano vegetable dishes:

Dinengdeng or Inabraw – is an Ilocano bagoong based vegetable stew topped with grilled fish. You can use bangus (milkfish), tilapia, and malaga (local fish used in picture)

Poqui-poqui is their version of the eggplant omelette

Buriburod – stewed vegetables

Ilocanos also love to eat seaweed. They are normally eaten raw and tossed or dipped in vinegar:

Potpotlo – jelly seaweed

Ar-arosip – grape seaweed

Culot/kulot – culry seaweed

Other Ilocano seafood dishes:

Biya- tiny fishes cooked in coconut milk or fried and dipped in vinegar

Kurita – looks like a long dried squid or cuttlefish

Popular Ilocano meat dishes:

Bagnet is crispy pork belly. It is pork belly that has been boiled in seasoned liquid and then hung to dry. It is later fried as a whole and then cut up into smaller pieces and fried again. The outer part is crispy but the meat inside is not though but moist. Locals sprinkle water into the oil during frying. They say the process creates blisters so the skin will pop. Great caution in doing this procedure as the hot oil can splatter.Bagnet and Vigan longanissa vendor

Dinakdakan – boiled pork face, cheeks, and then chopped and marinated in vinegar

Vigan longanissa -are small links of pork sausages with lots of garlic

Warek warek – grilled pork head with liver , mixed with onion and vinegar

Igado – liver and innards sautéed in annatto oil

Sinanglao – Vigan version of beef sinigang

Pipian – Chicken stew with kamias and thickened with ground rice

Tinolang Ilocano – boiled chicken with malunggay leaves

Bagis – cripy pork intestine

Papaitan -a stew of tripe, liver, intestines, kidney, heart,flavored with bile

Ricado – Inihaw na balat ng kalabaw (boiled cows skin and then boiled), with ginger, vinegar, onions

Pigs nipples

Other exotic dishes:

Ararawan – crickets cooked with tomatoes and bagoong

are mountain ant eggs. They look like round bean sprouts without the tail. I tried this cooked adobo style.
For Vigan empanda ( refer to part 2 Vigan blog)


About Pam

Teacher, cook, foodie, wanderlust
This entry was posted in food tours, Philippine Cuisine, Philippines, travel. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Ilocano Cuisine (Part 1)

  1. Carlos Aquino Jr says:

    I love the Bagnet!! specially with the onion, tomato and bagoong on the side! Vigan Longganisa is also a family favorite, we used to cook it tostado style!

  2. Jan Angelo Bañas says:

    ahhhmm… i have a research project about ilocano delicacies particularly pinakbet… thank you so much for the info… it helped me a lot…

  3. chamae deosil says:

    I would appreciate information about cooking classes in Ilocos. Also, plz, let me know of the other 3 foundations Filipino tradtional cuisine. merci beaucoup, Chamae

  4. Pingback: The Food of Vigan Ilocos Sur | Cooking Class

  5. The food is interesting and truly exotic – not sure I would ever eat pig nipples though 🙂
    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  6. Joy says:

    Biya is also called bukto. Dinakdakan is somewhat the same with sisg only it is not crispy, and we add pig brain for its creamy consistency, and it is seasoned with vinegar.Same goes for Warek warek and pipian is chicken version of kare kare only it is thickened with pasotes or epasotes and ground rice, as for sinanglao it is a mild or the counterpart of pinapaitan, without the bile, seasoned with kamias, as for ricado or cow’s skin, we call it caliente.

    • Pam says:

      Thank you Joy for your very valuable inputs.

      • Pam says:

        My friend thank you for your comment and I respect your opinion. Hope you don’t mind if I keep it private. I appreciate your correction on the spelling of warek warek and take note that shrimp paste is called aramang. To answer your question, no I am not Ilocano and perhaps am not the best authority on the subject matter. What I do have is an appreciation and admiration for your cuisine. It has been my advocacy to travel all over the country to learn and share knowledge about Filipino food. And I am doing this the best way I can thru research, interviews and inputs from passionate people such as yourself. My only intention is to promote Philippine cuisine out of love for my country.

      • jesix007 says:

        Kabayan, no problem if you prefer it private.

        I admire your purpose. The things you write will help Filipino cuisine to be more visible to netizens and of course to the international community.

        However, Im kind of dismissive about that phrase “your opinion”. Yes it’s my opinion, but if you may have noticed, my assertions are of careful considerations of dishes from all over the Philippines. Factual assertions, not simply opinions.

        If you may, please do so. I find your article made many generalization or opinion about Ilocano dishes which I believe you will not write if you did more research. Too much personal opinion which are not easy to substantiate may ruin the authoritativeness or believability of what you write. I believe impressions are easier to tolerate, but be sure to note as such.


  7. THANK U for the info i have an assignment

  8. ChrisJeanLandicho21 says:

    I would likely prefer to you also to search for the authentic beverage, dessert and appetizer for every region. Its more fun in the Philippines 🙂

  9. Bitey Dog says:

    I don’t know much about the cuisine from this part of the world, but the foods you have described sound wonderful!

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