Anthony Bourdain at one time said, “I think food, culture, people and landscape are all absolutely inseparable.” I find myself agreeing with him whenever I visit the City of Vigan. Everything about the place screams culture. The fusion of Spanish and native Filipino cuisine makes this food community one of its kind. Its rich history is, in reality, a melting pot of Filipino native dishes with a 21st-century twist. This is why Vigan City is one of the best places in the Philippines to go on a food trip.
1. Cafe Leona's Pinakbet Pizza is a true Vigan experience
Mention Café Leona and the Ilocanos will turn nostalgic. This restaurant has made a name for itself in Vigan because of its Spanish-Filipino fusion cuisine. One of its house specialties is the Pinakbet Pizza. Pinakbet is a traditional dish that is made of lowland vegetables such as squash, string beans, okra, eggplant, and bitter gourd that are sautéed in fish sauce. Although this combinations seems odd for a pizza, well, somehow, it works. Ever since Café Leona added this to their menu, people from everywhere wanted to try it. This 12-inch must-try costs around 7 USD and is perhaps the best way to understand what being Ilocano really means.
Address: #1 Calle Crisologo, Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
2. Enjoying the Vigan Empanada at Irene's is addicting
Having an empanada by the town plaza of Vigan is, I think, a requirement when on a food trip in Vigan. There is just something about sitting along the streets, watching and hearing people walk to and fro while munching on that brilliant crunchy and crispy deep-fried combination of Vigan’s best garlic longganisa (sausage), an egg, and some shredded papaya, all in that perfect empanada pastry shell that is kneaded by hand. It is addicting, I tell you.
What makes this extra special is the dipping sauce – the special Sukang Iloko (Ilocos Vinegar). The place to get Vigan’s best empanada is at Irene’s. They also have another fried specialty called the “Okoy,” a deep fried patty made of vegetables, shrimp and some egg. It is almost like the lighter version of the empanada. Irene’s empanada and okoy costs less than a dollar, so you can eat how much you want.
Address: Crisologo St., Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
3. The hearty bowl of Sinanglaw at Plaza Burgos is comforting
To Filipinos, a bowl of Sinanglaw is equivalent to what chicken soup does to the soul. It is the ultimate comfort food for that rainy day or when you’re out of sorts, sick or dead tired. The dish is made of beef and beef innards that is slow-cooked to achieve that tender melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Flavored with ginger, onions and garlic, the broth is its best feature. Sometimes the locals use tamarind or kamias for a sour contrast. The best place to get it is at a food kiosk in Plaza Burgos, the smaller of the major plazas in the city just beside Saint Paul Cathedral’s Bell Tower.
Plaza Burgos Food Kiosks
Address: Plaza Burgos, Vigan City
4. Vigan’s Bagnet (Pork Crackling) at Lilong and Lilang Restaurant is to die for
Lilong and Lilang Restaurant is also famously known as the Hidden Garden of Vigan. The restaurant serves Ilocano delicacies that include Bagnet, Sisig, Poqui-Poqui, and Warek-Warek. Bagnet is the Filipino version of pork crackling. Instead of just the pork skin, it is the whole slab of pork belly that is boiled, sun and air-dried, and then deep fried to perfection. Bagnet is best served with pinakbet.
In Lilong and Lilang’s, however, they go beyond the norm and prepare it as a sizzling dish called Bagnet Sisig. Poqui-Poqui is a vegetable dish made of roasted eggplants sautéed in tomatoes, onions and eggs. It is a simple side dish to its savory counterparts. Warek-Warek, on the other hand, is grilled lean pork, liver and intestine mixed in with a hint of cream. So for a taste of the best of Filipino exotic dishes, head over to Lilong and Lilang Restaurant, quietly located at Barangay Bulala, Vigan City.
Lilong Lilang Restaurant
Address: Brgy. Bulala, Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
Website: Hidden Garden Vigan
5. Know just how good Vigan Longanisa is at Kusina Felicitas
Kusina Felicitas is Grandpa’s Inn’s signature restaurant. Diners who visit the 60-seater restaurant are welcomed by the 18th-century vibe with its brick walls and historical expressions in art. Handcrafted wooden furniture is also quite a sight while dining here, making it unforgettable. Their house specialty includes a breakfast plate of sinangag (fried rice), Vigan Longganisa, sunny side up egg, some local papaya atsara (pickles), and of course, sukang iloko (Ilocano vinegar).
Even if the weather is warmer than other regions in the country, such breakfast for kings is best enjoyed with a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Kusina Felicitas always fulfills its promise of a happy and refreshing morning. They are opened from 6:30 in the morning to 10 in the evening at #1 Bonifacio, Vigan City.
Address: 1 Bonifacio, Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
Facebook: Kusina Felicitas
6. Know how it feels to be authentically Spanish and Filipino with Paella Ilocandia at Cafe Bigaa
Something that is authentically Spanish that turned into something authentically Filipino is, Paella Ilocandia, a dish that is most pleasantly served in Cafe Bigaa, located at the middle of Florentino and Plaridel streets. Paella is a staple for family gatherings, most especially during the Christmas season or for any family reunion. It is similar to Italy’s Risotto, only more lavish with its seafood toppings, green peas, chick peas and anything that strikes a cook’s fancy.
As Ilocanos, expect the Paella Ilocandia to have some bagnet and other kinds of meaty goodness. The heart of the dish is how the rice is intricately cooked in a tomato sauce concoction being careful not to make the rice soggy from being overcooked, but also not being undercooked leaving the dish inconsistently grainy. Cafe Bigaa is located at Mena Crisologo Street and is open from 6 am to 10 pm daily.
Address: Mena Crisologo St., Brgy. 2, Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
7. Trying out Bistro 23’s Sizzling Balut is epic
Sizzling Baluuuut!!!! #bistro23vigan #bistro23 Eat, Drink & Be Happy!! 🍴🍷😃Posted by Bistro 23 on Monday, 29 February 2016
Yet another exotic dish the Filipinos love to dare other visitors with is Balut. Balut is basically duck’s egg. Balut is what Filipinos like to eat when they need an instant picker-upper. Its high protein content gives a boost of energy for a dreary day. In Vigan, Balut goes well with empanada by the town plaza at night, of course, with a bottle of Coca-cola. Nothing is better than that, actually. In Bistro 23, they serve their Balut on a sizzling plate and this makes the dish even more appetizing. It’s like steak meets egg in a very cool way. Again, it may sound odd, but it works specially with ice cold drinks.
Address: 29 Salcedo Street Corner, Vigan City
8. You can take Vigan home with you with Tongson's Royal Bibingka and bags of Chichacorn
To top the Vigan experience off, be sure to make a stop for some local merienda delicacies – Vigan’s Royal Bibingka and Chichacorn that is otherwise known as “kornik.” These munchies are best enjoyed as snacks or for afternoon tea and for movie times. Tongson’s makes the best royal bibingka, a delightful rice cake that is both cheesy and creamy. The coconut infused flavor makes this a native Filipino dish. Chichacorn, on the other hand, is made of corn kernels that are airy, light and crunchy. They come in different flavors namely cheese, barbecue, sweet, or spicy for any occasion it calls for and for any kind of person you would like to share with.
Tongson's Royal Bibingka
Address: Ilocos Sur Crisologo St., Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
Facebook: Tongson’s Royal Bibingka
Vigan: The only place you can eat like a Filipino Spaniard
Vigan City as a food hub is surreal. It is the only place you can experience being Spanish and Filipino at the same time with every mouthful of this fusion cuisine. So, for any foodie who wants to experience something exotic with a of cultural vibe, Vigan City is the best place to eat.
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