Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Strolling Spoon Goes to Ilocos Part 1: A Summer Getaway & Gastronomical Trip

Food tripping and travelling for me, has never been this so much fun. Imagine going on a long bus ride with your very dear friends, taking snacks and naps in between every stop over, seeing lush green fields, astounding sceneries and a beautiful sunset to top it all up - it was such a fantastic idea and a great way to enjoy this summer! While some of my friends decided to rest for a moment during our trip going to Laoag City, I, instead managed to somehow keep myself awake and get my camera shutter ready - all prepped up to capture those breathtaking scenes perfectly orchestrated by nature.

"I know my blog should revolve mostly around food, but good food also depicts fun and great adventures. That's what these landscape pics are for. This trip is not just aiming to feature good food but also the unforgettable moments and amazing spectacles that our eyes are able to witness. Food and amazing views complete the whole strolling adeventure."
- The Strolling Spoon

The delish food trip actually started at our last stop over in Barangay Bantayan, Ilocos Norte (same place where I had taken the latter sunset pics) wherein we had some isaw, pork barbecue and hotdogs dipped in super yummy Sukang Iloko. Their isaw seemed to be relatively small compared to the ones that I've tried in Manila but it tastes way better. I think it has something to do with the marinade that they use to flavor the chicken intestines while grilling it. I love its clean taste plus the meaty and smoky flavor. The same marinade is used for the pork meat and hotdog, making it extra flavorful. What makes these grilled meat a whole lot different from the barbecues back in the city is the use of Sukang Iloko (native Ilocano vinegar) mixed with chopped red and green chilis, garlic, onions and some black peppercorns as their primary sauce and dip. I love how the meat absorbs the vinegar, making me crave for more barbecue after another. For only 50php I had 3 pieces of the isaw, a hotdog and a stick of pork barbecue plus I got to practice my Ilocano speaking skills, all thanks to Ate Irene of Barangay Bantayan, I experienced another of life's many simple pleasures.

After travelling for almost 2 more hours, we finally arrived at Laoag City. Though very tired and sleepy, we were still so thrilled to roam around and discover diffrent sights as well as taste varieties of good food that Ilocos has to offer. We were fetched by Kuya Jerry, our van driver who also served as our tour guide for this trip. Upon arriving at the UKL Hotel, we had a quick dinner and a few drinks. Afterwards, we decided to get some rest for an exciting itinerary awaits us in the morning.

It was a perfect day to roam around Ilocos, the sun shone brightly giving us a warm and energizing feeling. So, after having a light breakfast of tapsilog and coffee, we decided to immediately hit the road and go straight ahead to Burgos, Ilocos Norte for our first stop for this trip: The Cape Bojeador.

The Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, also known as Burgos Lighthouse is considered as a cultural heritage structure set in the town of Burgos, Ilocos Norte. Established during the Spanish Colonial period in the Philippines, it was first lit on March 30, 1892 and is majestically set high on Vigia de Nagparitan Hill overlooking the scenic Cape Bojeador where early galleons used to sail by.

a breathtaking view of Cape Bojeador
and South China Sea from Vigia de Nagparitan Hill

For over 100 years, this lighthouse still functions effectively as a welcoming landmark to the international ships and seafarers that enter the Philippine Archipelago from the north (the lighthouse marks the northwesternmost point of Luzon) and guide them safely away from the rocky coast of the town. It was declared a National Historical Landmark on August 13, 2004 and a National Cultural Treasure on June 20, 2005 by the Philippine Government.

Not too far away from Cape Bojeador is another tourist attraction that made Ilocos Norte extra special, no other than the Bangui Windmills, officially referred to as the NorthWind Bangui Bay Project.

Bangui Windmills

Bangui Windmills is the first "wind farm" in the Philippines consisting of wind turbines on-shore facing the South China Sea and considered to be the biggest in Asia. These windmills serve as a practice of using renewable sources of energy to help reduce the greenhouse gases that cause global warming and at the same time provide the residents of Ilocos Norte with enough power and electricity.

Another two scenic treats from the province of Ilocos: the Patapat Viaduct and Natural Park. The Patapat Viaduct is an elevated concrete highway that connects Maharlika Highway from Laoag, Ilocos Norte to the Cagayan Valley Region. It is constructed along winding and rocky headlands near the northernmost roadway section in Ilocos Norte in order to solve the problems of landslides in the area that have caused many vehicular accidents in the past. Built on a rocky seashore few meters aways from the mountain side, it gives a thrilling and wondrous view of the Pasaleng Bay.

an amazing view of Pasaleng Bay from Patapat Viaduct

The Natural Park, more commonly called by locals as the "Paraiso ni Anton" is a natural stream that is believed to have healing powers. As for me, it is actually a very relaxing and refreshing place to unwind and appreciate nature even more. I can't help but love how its ever flowing cool waters relieved my feet from pain and how the trees seem to cover the whole place giving us fresh breeze and shade. The sound of its running water is so calming that it can actually make you feel light and revived, so as to its lush green environment. It was truly a perfect stop over.

Paraiso ni Anton

After that very invigorating stop over, we decided to have lunch and head straight to one of the famous beaches in the country, one that is called the "Boracay of the North" - Pagudpud. From fine white sandy beaches to remarkable cliffs and hidden waterfalls, clear blue skies and waters Pagudpud remains to be a definite example of a true paradise of Northern Philippines.

Saud Beach, Pagudpud

Emohruo Beach and Restobar

Address: Evangeline Beach Resort Saud Beach Cove, Burayoc Point,
Pagudpud Ilocos Norte, 2919, Philippines
Contact Numbers: (+63908) 8637564, (+63918) 9081071

There's no better way than to have a heavy lunch while appreciating the beauty of the Pagudpud Beach, that's why we decided to spend the afternoon at the Evangeline Resort's Emohruo Bar and Restaurant. Imagine dining with all of your good friends, sharing scrumptious food over a scenic beach of white sand and crystal blue waters - truly tummy-filling and breathtaking.

Emohruo Restaurant (Our Home spelled backwards) offers a wide variety of Filipino and Ilocano dishes that will absolutely satisfy your cravings. What's good about this restaurant aside from their very generous serving and polite food servers is that they cook their dishes fresh, so you really have to wait and be patient before devouring their palatable offerings. While waiting you can lounge in their bar or maybe relax in one of their comfy beach tables just few meters away from the shore. Our first dish for the afternoon is their Grilled Fish with KBL (kamatis, bagoong, lasona). This dish may seem to be very simple as it looks but it was something that I craved for when I came back here in Manila.

Grilled Fish with KBL (kamatis, bagoong, lasona)

The fish fillets tasted really fresh and delicious. I just love its smoky flavor that gave the fish an interesting layer of goodness. The fish also stayed tender and was cooked just right. What makes this dish different form any other grilled dishes that we used to have is their authentic Ilocano side dish called KBL which stands for kamatis (native tomatoes), bagoong (fermented fish sauce), and lasona (spring onions). It amazing wakes all the flavors of every dish that you pair it with, but as for me, it is best with the grilled fish. It was so good you can eat it as it is or if you want to make it more Ilocano, add it to some grilled egglants or bagnet. I love to drizzle it's flavorful sauce over steaming hot rice. This side dish/salad also serves as an effective appetizer.

KBL (kamatis, bagoong, lasona)

It was when this dish was served that we felt like having a true Ilocano feast - the Emohruo Fiesta Grill with three plain rice. It was a medley of our all time grilled favorites like grilled tilapia, pork chop, chicken barbecue and some calamares, Iloco vegetables, bananas served with KBL and mango salsa. Ordering two sets of this dish is perfect for a group of ten people, just need to add few more extra rice and you're good to go. I love the chicken barbecue and the pork chop and of course its very festive presentation.

Emohruo Fiesta Grill

I am an avid fan of Pork Sinigang so when I saw that they have this classic Filipino dish on their menu, I immediately included it in our list of orders. I just can help not to be amazed of how soft the pork meat was and how the fat flavored the "sabaw" making the soup really delicious, flavorful and meaty, just the way I want it. I also love the native veggies that stayed crunchy over that steaming hot and yummy tamarind and tomato based soup.

Pork Sinigang

The Sinigang na Bangus (milkfish in sour broth), on the other hand, is also something that every seafood lover should try. With their generous cuts of the clean milkfish and its mouth-watering fish belly that flavors the same tamarind and tomato based broth, it was truly an all-time favorite Filipino dish that we can be truly proud of.

Sinigang na Bangus

When it comes to desserts, Emohruo has proved me that aside from their great tasting dishes, they also offer sweets that will truly melt your heart and complete the whole amazing dining experience. This is actually my favorite part, so without any further ado, let me excite every sweet tooth out there with these luscious treats. Speaking of Filipino desserts, Emohruo's Halo-Halo Special is something more than what I have expected. It has all the ingredients that a traditional halo-halo should have - from different kinds of sweetened beans to bananas, sweet potatoes, tapoica pearls, nata de coco, ube and leche flan. What they did to add a twist into it is that instead of the usual ube ice cream, Emohruo's halo-halo has chocolate ice cream and a cherry on top. Some of us preferred our halo-halo to have more shaved ice in it (since it has more of the sweet stuffs, it has less) so after indulging in some of its ingredients, we asked for some additional shaved ice and good enough, that way we enjoyed this dessert even further.

Halo-Halo Special

Another treat that easily made its way to my heart is the Emohruo Banana Boat Ice Cream. Unlike the regular banana splits that we used to have in many ice cream parlors in Manila, Emohruo's version is made extra special by using sweetened ripe bananas (instead of the freshly peeled ones) and bite-sized blocks of good semi-sweet chocolates hiding under it (who would not love to dig in and find those sweet surprises?!). I love the caramel-like taste of the bananas that blends very well with the chocolate ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Its creamy texture and perfect sweetness were balanced by the nuts, marshmallows and chocolate blocks; and just like the halo-halo, it was a great dessert to indulge in while lounging at the beach. I'll make sure to eat this again when I get a chance to go back in Ilocos.

Banana Boat Ice Cream

This last dessert is a crepe oozing with lots of banana filling, drizzled with chocolate syrup and then topped with chocolate ice cream, cherry and nuts. The crepe was perfectly cooked and tasted really good with the caramelized bananas. The ice cream sprinkled with nuts made this dessert refreshing enough. It was actually quite heavy for a dessert but still a great and sweet ending to such great afternoon Ilocano food trip!

Banana Crepe

After having such a hefty and delicious lunch, we decided to swim for a while and play with those big waves under the scorching heat of the afternoon sun. We also took some interesting photos that served as our remembrance of this such beautiful place. Visiting Pagudpud and being submerged into its beauty, waters and great food is one memorable experience that undeniably captured my heart and will be a part of my memory for the rest of my life.

Ilocano kids playing under the sun

Happy friends at Pagudpud...
photo credit: Gideon Ian Grefalda

Driving back to the hotel took us a lot of time but we were very lucky though to witness a magical feat from nature - the sunset and the moon rise all at the same time! It was already dark when we arrived at Laoag City, just in time to witness its majestic charm at night and for a highly pleasing dinner, Ylocano style!

Saramsam Ylocano Restaurant

Address: N. Corpuz Building, Rizal Street corner Hizon St.,
Barangay 7-A, Laoag City
Contact Numbers: (077) 771 5825 or 0917 570 2110

cozy interiors of Saramsam Restaurant

Located on Rizal Street in Laoag City, Saramsam is a small restaurant that offers traditional and interesting Ylocano dishes that will truly excite your senses and further tickle your tastebuds. The restaurant's name, Saramsam, is actually an Iloco word which means informal and constant dining, with connotations of a fun atmosphere with friends eating together. To start with their fascinating dishes, let me introduce you to one of their specialities, the Poque-poque Pizza.

Poque-poque Pizza

This must try pizza is a quartet of grilled eggplants, tomatoes, onions and eggs. What makes this pizza even more amusingly good is that it is from a fusion of the traditional Ylocano fare and Western cuisine. The appetizing combination of the ingredients with the mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce was really, really good making me finish a slice of it in no time. Though it was a thick crust pizza (I prefer thin crust more), I was still able to enjoy its appealing flavors and insanely delicious taste. Also, for those who doesn't eat eggplants, this is actually an effective way to finally taste its goodness for you will never know that you're having eggplants at all! It tastes more like a veggie and meat pizza in one. Other avant-garde versions of the traditional Ylocano fare that we have ordered is the Saramsam Pasta and Chorizo de Laoag Pasta.

Saramsam Pasta
photo credit: Gideon Ian Grefalda/Danyoela Mapagu-Grefalda

Spicy Olive Oil and Bagoong Pasta Sauce

This pasta dish is composed of al dente Italian spaghetti topped with a generous amount of shrimps, cilantro leaves, green and red bell peppers, fresh tomatoes, onions, green and ripe mango slices and parmesan cheese. For the sauce, you can drizzle some of the spicy olive oil and and bagoong over your pasta depending on how spicy and salty you want it to be. I love the push and pull of flavors that this dish gave my tastebuds - from the sweetness of the ripe mangoes to the saltiness and spiciness of the sauce - this dish has truly acquired terrific flavors in it. Combining all of these wonderful flavors from different fresh ingredients is what makes this offering delightful and mouth-watering. Very unique to its nature, only Saramsam Restaurant offers this pasta dish.

Chorizo de Laoag Pasta

A fusion of Italian fettuccine and pork chorizo (ground Laoag longganisa) in marinara sauce infused with the goodness of garlic and some herbs, this pasta dish is to really die for. I can't help but to love its rich and meaty sauce that coats the pasta very well; way better and tastier than the usual tomato sauce and meatballs pasta that I used to have. It also has a yummy spiciness into it that will make your appetite rise and crave for more. This pasta is also perfect with some butter and garlic bread, it is so good I can finish more than one serving all by myself.

Bagnet with KBL
photo credit: Gideon Ian Grefalda/Danyoela Mapagu-Grefalda

The Bagnet with KBL is also one of the dishes that we always rave about every eating time of the day and since we had KBL and grilled fish for lunch, its now the perfect time to pair it with a classic Ilocos treat which is the bagnet. The pork - very crunchy and stayed really juicy and tasty. I love how the fat easily melts in my mouth as I eat it. The flavors of the meat greatly complements the richness and saltiness of the KBL. Eat it with steaming hot rice, and for sure one cup of it will not be enough for this dish is truly proven to be a pleaser and an all-time favorite.

For our beverage, we had their bestseller, Basil Iced Tea. It's actually their own house blend iced tead infused with the earthy flavor and goodness of basil leaves. I already got interested about it the moment I saw how it was served. Each glasses are filled ice and then beautifully topped with a smal basil leaf.

Basil Iced Tea

The house blend iced tea will then be served in a pitcher and as your pour some of it into the glasses, the basil immediately adds a very refreshing flavor into it, making the iced tea very aromatic and more thirst-quenching. Submerge the leaf at the bottom of your glass and it'll give your drink an extra boost of basil flavor.

For dessert, since some of us are already full (literally full because of the pastas and the bagnet with rice) I decided to only order some of their quick and easy desserts (yes, there's always room in my tummy for dessert!) Glancing at their menu, this one really got my attention - Marungay Sherbet.

Marungay Sherbet

This undeniably enchanting and pleasant-tasting frozen dessert is made from milk or cream, sugar, some egg whites or gelatin and of course, its main flavoring - fresh malunggay leaves. At first, I actually wondered how it tastes like, and looking at it with a slice of calamansi gave me an idea that it might be like a creamy pesto and to counter the slight bitterness of it, I have to put some of the calamansi juice. I tried it alone (without the calamansi juice) and I was astonished by how creamy and lovely it was, there was no trace of the leafy, malunggay taste! What's also good about this sherbet is that it's texture and taste can be compared to those branded ice creams that we're used to. The lady who served us this dessert then told us how to properly eat it - put a drop of the calamansi juice at every scoop of the sherbet - and she's right, that way we had experienced its goodness even better. The calamansi added a twist of freshness and a hint of citrus flavor to the sherbet, making it a true Ylocano culinary innovation and a delectable way to end such a Saramsam dinner.

***Special thanks to my dear friends, Danyoela Mapagu-Grefalda & Gideon Ian Grefalda for some of the fantastic pics that they have allowed me to use for this post. Love you much guys! Visit their travel site at***

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