Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Strolling Spoon Goes to Ilocos Part 2: A Summer Getaway & Gastronomical Trip

It was our last day in the historic Ilocos Region but that didn't stop us from visiting more heritage sites and exploring additional great-tasting food that the warm Ilocano people has to offer. We started out our day very early, had the usual yet still very uplifting breakfast of Laoag longganisa, sinangag (garlic fried rice) and sunny side up eggs paired with a cup of coffee. Afterwards. we then packed our things quickly and embarked on another journey heading to Ilocos' most famous tourist spots and landmarks. Our first stop for this tour is the Marcos Museum in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte.

Marcos Museum

Said to be the birthplace of the late president Ferdinand Marcos who was born on September 11, 1917 to Mariano and Josefa Edralin Marcos (both school teachers from a well-off family), this traditional bahay na bato houses a lot of memorabilia and things owned by the Edralin Marcos Clan which is considered as important artifacts that traces the roots and childhood of the said late president. Located in the same town is another heritage site that is truly worth visiting - The Sarrat Church.

Sarrat Church

bell tower

brick-bridge and staircase leading to the convent

Formally known as the Sta. Monica Church, Sarrat Church in known to be the largest church in the entire Ilocos region and was built with a neo-classical style of architecture way back 1679. Part of this structure is a bell tower, a convent and a museum that used to be the death chamber during the Spanish colonial period. Made entirely out of red bricks, this church has buttressed walls, roof trusses and a 3-storey brick-bridge and a staircase that connects it to the convent.

Museo Ilocos Norte

fruits and vegetables that grown in the Ilocos Norte region

clay pots and other traditional Ilocano cooking utensils

After being so amazed with the Sarrat Church, we headed straight to the heart of the Ilocos Norte's rich culture and tradition, the Museo Ilocos Norte. Established in 1878 and known as the Tabacalera Building, this structure was originally designed as the Administrative Center of the Tobacco Monopoly in Ilocos Norte during the Spanish colonial times. Now, it serves as a provincial museum that showcases the vast cultural heritage of the people of Ilocos Norte. Inside this lifestyle museum, you will find a traditional Ilocano house during the 1940's, old furniture, conventional farming and kitchen utensils plus the accustomed clothing of every Ilocano ethnic tribe; almost anything that you need to know to familiarize yourself to the Ilocanos. After that very informative attraction that undoubtedly inspired us all to appreciate the richness of Ilocano culture even more, we decided to head to the official residence of the late President Marcos in Ilocos Norte, the Malacanang of the North.

The Malacanang Palace of the North

an exquisite view of the Paoay Lake from the palace garden

This lavish and spacious two-storey structure overlooks the legendary Paoay lake and was designed to resemble a 19th Century bahay na bato. Complete with bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, bathrooms and a very sophisticated living room and a second floor ballroom all adorned with beautiful lamps and chandeliers. Even just for a while, we had a great time experiencing how is it to live at one of the most famous residences in the country. We then continued to drive in the picturesque town of Paoay, until we have reached the famous Paoay Church and Herencia de Paoay Cafe.

Paoay Church

More formally known as the St. Augustine Church, this UNESCO World Heritage Site played an important role during the Spanish-Filipino Revolution. Its coral stone bell tower served as an observation post for Katipuneros in 1896 and by the Filipino guerillas during the Japanese occupation in World War II. The church is a unique combination of Gothic, Baroque and Oriental designs. The Gothic affinity can be seen at the church's facade, its gable show Chinese elements while the niches topping the walls that made it look like a reminiscent of the Boroboudur temple. Also known as the "Earthquake Baroque" (it has survived many strong earthquakes and other calamities), the Paoay Chruch is built out of baked bricks, coral rocks, tree sap and lumber and has 24 massive buttresses for support. The overall details of the design were said to be inspired by the seal of Saint Augustine, the emblem of the king of Spain, the logo of the Pope, the sun-God and stylized Chinese clouds.

Just a few walks from this majestic landmark is a cafe that doesn't just serve delicious and authentic Ilocano dishes but also great meal creations that will truly surprise your senses, no other than the Herencia Cafe.

Herencia Cafe

Address: McArthur Street, Barangay 14, Sangladan, Paoay, Ilocos Norte
(in front of Paoay Church)
Contact Numbers: 077-6140214

Me and my bestfriend, Bherry at the cafe's entrance door.
photo credit: Gideon Ian Grefalda

Hailed as the "Edible Landmark in Ilocos Norte", Herencia de Paoay Cafe or simply Herencia Cafe boasts its scenic and perfect location to further admire the beauty of the Paoay Church. Imagine having highly acclaimed good food in a very flamboyant backdrop - very dainty and truly incomparable! Herencia which literally means "heritage", is a restaurant which has remained dedicated to the classic Ilocano cuisine as in their authentic and delicious servings of pinakbet and bagnet. Aside from that, this cafe is also known for their fusion cuisine and pizzas that everyone will surely be hooked and get excited about. Lets start with their bestseller, the Pinakbet Pizza.

Pinakbet Pizza, my friend Angela Nava's favorite

Taking the quintessential Ilocano, Pinakbet, to a higher and new level of culinary excellence, Herencia Cafe indeed made a revolutionary trademark in the local Ilocano and Filipino food business. This very intriguing and appetizing treat is made with a thin, hand tossed pizza crust generously topped with mozzarella cheese, native bagoong (in replacement of the more commercialized anchovies), some okra, eggplants and longganiza meat - ingredients that when combined all together creates a harmonious and pleasing taste that is genuinely one of a kind. This pizza is rightfully one of the greatest fares that I've had in my gastronomical trips.

Another outrageously scrumptious pizza that we had is the Ilocandia Pizza. Made with the same hand tossed, thin crust topped with lots of mozzarella cheese, white onions and most importantly its main topping, Ilocos Longganiza. I love how the cheese adequately marries the meaty and garlic flavors of the longganiza, it's so good it tastes better than salami or pepperoni. It even becomes more tasty by sprinkling some freshly ground black pepper and hot sauce.

Ilocandia Pizza

The Ilocandia Pasta, on the other hand, has the similar ingredients as to what its pizza counterpart has. The only difference is that this time, the longganiza is used as a ground pork and then combined with rich tomato marinara sauce to get that meaty and flavorful pasta sauce. Its color also suggest that the oil that was used to cook the sauce is the same oil that came out of the longganiza while frying. I love the al dente spaghetti and that they incorporated this dish with some native mushrooms or "tengang daga" which added additional meaty taste and texture so as to the parmesan cheese that created a nutty and creamy touch to the dish.

Ilocandia Pasta

This next meal that we had was one of my well-loved dishes from Herencia Cafe. I tend to only eat this recipe when it's my mom who cooked it or if I got it from my trusted and preferred restaurants; I am talking about Dinuguan or Pork Blood Stew and Herencia Cafe gave me all reasons why I should put their version of this classic Filipino chow into my list of favorites. First, instead of the usual pork meat, they have used the bagnet (air-dried & deep-fried pork) as its main meat ingredient, which is why they have called it Crispy Dinuguan. Its amazing how the meat chunks absorbed the flavors of the sauce and retained its distinct charm to the palate. Secondly, its clean, thick, hearty and sour-tasting sauce with a hint of spiciness from the green chili appealed to me a lot; love to mix most of it with steaming hot white rice!

Crispy Dinuguan

Of course, no Ilocano meal is complete without the Bagnet with KBL. Herencia Cafe's version though, when it comes to the KBL is with chopped onions and not the native lasona (spring onions or chives) which has a different and milder flavors compared to the white onion. Still, it complemented the goodness of the pork meat really well and served as an appetizer an a native salad for everyone. The bagnet was cooked to perfection - crispy yet tender pork meat and melt-in-your-mouth fat plus the super crunchy pork skin - it was a true Ilocano delight that no one could ever resist.

Bagnet with KBL

With Herencia Cafe's old world elegance consisting of its Florentine glasses, antique wood and wrought iron furniture and other artistic interiors and the superb view of the famed Paoay Church, it was definitely one of my unforgettable gastronomical experiences. There's no better place to eat all of these meals and practice the art of fine dining than at the Herencia Cafe.

Herencia Cafe's refined interiors and classic appeal
photo credit: Gideon Ian Grefalda/Danyoela Mapagu-Grefalda

wood-carved signage at the side of the entrance door

After having that hefty lunch we continued on our journey and then headed to Badoc, Ilocos Norte to visit another historical landmark - the Juan Luna Shrine. It is a reconstruction of the two-storey brick house wherein the patriot and famous Filipino painter was born (the original house was burned in 1861). Born to Joaquin Luna and Laureana Novicio on October 24, 1857, Juan Luna was known to be the instrument in placing the Philippine art and culture on the world map.

Juan Luna statue

This museum houses things that were owned by the Luna Family and some replicas of Juan Luna's famous paintings which includes the "Spoliarium", "La Batalla de Lepanto" (special gold medal, Barcelona Exposition 1888) "Death of Cleopatra" , and the controversial "The Parisian Life" which does not only embody intangible idea of the Filipino national consciousness but also Luna being a talented artist and a indefatigable painter of women. Through this painting, Luna was able to portray our country's condition at the hands of the Spaniards in a very playful and relaxed mood.

Juan Luna Shrine

(gold medal, Madrid National Exposition for Fine Arts in 1884
which depicts a chamber beneath a Roman arena
where bodies of dead gladiators are dragged in a shadowy area)
photo credit: Gideon Ian Grefalda

Death of Cleopatra
(Juan Luna's graduation work and won a silver medal at the
1881 Madrid National Exposition for Fine Arts, his very first art competition)

Juan Luna's The Parisian Life (Interior d'un Cafi)

We spent most of the time at the Juan Luna Shrine (that house is truly pretty and amazing, very cozy too!). The moment we're all done with the tour and after taking some more pictures, we all agreed to finally head south to the heritage town of Vigan, Ilocos Sur where we will be buying all of our pasalubong and souvenirs (Vigan bagnet and longganisa) for friends in Manila. Upon arriving at this very historical town, we made sure to take some time and explore its main tourist attractions namely, Padre Burgos House, Vigan Hidden Garden and Pagburnayan, Chavit Singson's Baluarte and of course the much-awaited stroll at the Crisologo Street or the Vigan Heritage Village.

Padre Jose Burgos' Museum: Hall of Fame for Ilocano Heroes & Achievers
photo credit: Gideon Ian Grefalda/Danyoela Mapagu-Grefalda

Fr. Burgos Museum is the ancestral house of the martyr-priest Padre Jose Burgos. Built in 1788, it was owned by his grandparents, Don Juan Gonzales and Dona Florentina Gascon. This two-storey house has maintained its 19th century interior and has a well-preserved kitchen. It also houses things owned by the family, memorabilia of the martyr priest Jose Burgos along with an excellent collection of archaeological and ethnological finds. It also features Tingguian cultural artifacts and records of the native reactions to colonialism. Antique pieces, collections and dioramas of local historical events are also very well preserved and presented.

Located at the heart of Vigan is a hidden garden of lush greens boasting different species of flowering and decorative plants, fruit-bearing trees and bonsais at a very low price. A true green thumb's haven, strolling around this place actually gave me a refreshing and cool feeling that I really miss whenever I am stucked at the metro. Another thing that I admire about this place is the beautifully done landscapes that they also offer services for, the shady cove and wooden benches that is surrounded by even more plants and flowers.

Hidden Garden

photo credit: Gideon Ian Grefalda/Danyoela Mapagu-Grefalda

The Pagburnayan, on the other hand is a jar (locally called "burnay") factory that allows every visitor to witness how clay pots and jars are made. From the "putik" or clay that they mold into different shapes and sizes to the process of fireblasting it in a huge kiln, it was a true craft that the people of Vigan are truly proud of. Some actually go to Vigan not just to visit the Heritage Village but to buy some jars and vases that is mostly used for landscaping as a decorative garden ornament.


photo credit: Gideon Ian Grefalda/Danyoela Mapagu-Grefalda

The Baluarte, owned by Gov. Chavit Singson is not just a zoo but is an interactive wildlife sanctuary and facility of 80 hectares of gently rolling terrains, hills and mountain slides. Baluarte's aim is to forge a bond between people and nature by providing a free, family-oriented experience by advancing quality animal care, education, science and conservation. Also through their interactive activities (like the one that we have tried, riding a small calesa with a pony), they have enlightened people about the important bond between people and animals.

mini calesa ride with pony "corina" at Baluarte
photo credit: Angela Nava

With all of those activities and different tourist attractions we didn't noticed that it's almost time for dinner so our driver dropped us to one of Vigan's famous restaurants, Cafe Uno.

Cafe Uno

Address: Grandpa's Inn, Vigan City
#1 Bonifacio Street cor. Quirino Blvd.. Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
Telephone Number: +63 (077) 7222118
Fax Number: +63 (077) 6320987
Mobile Number: +639175802118
Email: /

Cafe Uno's signage and interiors

Cafe Uno is a small quaint corner coffee shop inside Granpa's Inn, the first in Vigan City. With its very homey and cozy interiors and good Filipino and Ilocano food, its the best place to eat together with friends, a place for intimate conversations and a relaxing destination to unwind after a day of strolling around the city. Aside from their traditional Filipino and Ilocano dishes, they also offer a variety of pasta, noodles, sandwiches and light Mexican snacks and desserts to fill every hungry tummy. To start with the feast let me intorduce you to their house specialty, Pansit Palabok. This dish is teeming with fresh veggies and seafood ingredients such as shrimps and mussels as well as some pork chicaron, fried tofu and wedges of hard boiled eggs. Its yummy sauce coats and flavors the vermicelli noodles very well. I love its presentation so as to how its distinct taste play with your mouth at every spoonful. Add some of the calamansi and surely make you crave for more palabok, Cafe Uno style!

Pansit Palabok

Next on our order list is their Native Tinolang Manok (chicken ginger stew with vegetables). With the use of native chicken, the soup tasted really flavorful and delicious with a mild hint of ginger that undoubtedly wakes the flavors of the chicken and add a layer of goodness to the soup dish. What differs their version of tinolang manok is that they have added solidified and cubed chicken blood with rice - a new and pleasingly unconventional way of preparing chicken ginger stew with vegetables. Also, the chicken itself tasted really fresh so as to the veggies that remain succulent though it is soaked into the hot soup.

Native Tinolang Manok

Last but definitely not the least is Cafe Uno's take on the traditional Bistek Tagalog or Beef Steak. The beef strips stayed juicy and tender and its flavors blended perfectly with the savory sauce. I love the hint of calamansi everytime you will try this dish, for me that's what a true bistek is all about. The caramelized onions also added a depth of flavor to this dish; eat it with the beef, sauce and hot rice and you will be surprised how delicious it is.

Beef Steak

And to finally end this summer getaway and gastronomical trip, we strolled at the famous cobblestone street of Calle Crisologo at the Vigan Heritage Village. It looked really dreamy and amazing at night. I love how the street lights transforms the old Spanish houses and whole place into an era way back hundred of years ago. It gave my lenses a perfect sepia tone, goes very well with its rustic and old world charm and beauty. Established during the 16th century, most of the materials used for this planned Spanish colonial town - adobe, pebbles, bricks and posts - were said to be brought from Europe through the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. The construction work was done by Chinese laborers, thus, reflecting a unique fusion of Spanish European and Chinese culture. In November 1999, it was then hailed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Site commemorating its cultural significance to the world and to every Filipino.

painting of the Heritage Village
found at the lobby of Grandpa's Inn

Calle Crisologo, Vigan Heritage Village at night

***Special thanks again to my very dear friends, Gideon Ian Grefalda and Danyoela Mapagu-Grefalda for lending me some of their pics for this write up (visit their travel site at so as to Angela Nava for the Baluarte pic. love you guys!***