Sunday, July 17, 2011

# Empanada Nation # Ilocano cuisine

Empanada Nation: From Ilocos with Love

One of my unforgettable trips last year was my trip to Ilocos. It's one of my dream destinations here in the Philippines because of the windmills, old churches with very beautiful architecture and almost untouched nature. It's when the nature and old infrastructure blend into each other that everything looks very peaceful and romantic.

My friend Caca outside Paoay Church

My fiance Johan going down from Kabigan Falls

Aside from all the scenery, the food was also fantastic! Even though I'm not a fan of fatty and fried food, bagnet and empanada seem to be an exception. I was told by my fiance during our trip in Ilocos last year that one can't bring bagnet to Manila because it will only get too dry and hard so we have to eat bagnet until we satisfy our cravings because it might take long before we'll have it again. For the empanada, we first had it on a stopover on our way to our resort. I have to admit the first empanada which we had did not taste as good as how they say it tasted. However, we did not give up on this dish and had empanada outside the Laoag airport before we left. Amazingly, the empanada we had outside the airport tasted really good! How I wish I can bring some back to Manila but I was afraid it might not be crunchy outside since it will be soaked with oil and water while in the paper bag so I took a picture of it instead for memories.

Last empanadas that we bought outside the Laoag Airport

When I got invited to try out Empanada Nation, I've wondered how can this be? Can Ilocos dishes really be brought here to Metro Manila? There's only one way to find out which is try it out!

Looking for Empanada Nation is quite easy. It is located at 26 Sgt. Esguerra Avenue, Quezon City. It's beside Getaway Spa, Chocolat and N20 bar and resto. There's a big orange and white tarp that shouts its name Empanada Nation.

Getaway Spa, Chocolat and N20 bar and resto

26 Sgt. Esguerra Avenue, Quezon City

Walking into the orange and white restaurant which looks like the colors of empanada, I was already so excited to have some empanadas!

Al fresco dining area

Aircon dining area

Marnie, the PR and Venice, one of the owners, welcomed me to their restaurant. They introduced themselves and told me how the restaurant came about. Venice is actually Ilocana and she loves to cook Ilocano cuisine so her friends have asked her to open up a restaurant. With the help of some friends, Empanada Nation came about. The ingredients are mostly shipped to Manila from Ilocos so one can be assured of the authenticity. The strong odor of the sour vinegar is one of the proof that made me thankful they're authentic!

L-R: Denise Calnea, Omar Itay, Ferdinand Bondoy, Marnie, Venice, Florencio Jusay, Flowell Galindez, Enzo and Jeman Villanueva

The first dish they made me try is Sarabasab which is made out of pork and pork liver. According to Venice, this dish is eaten during breakfast by the Ilocanos. I do not like pork liver but for the sake of knowing why this dish is eaten for breakfast, I've tried a little of it. Sarabasa is actually not so salty that one can eat it as is but it is best paired with fried rice.


The fried rice that they serve is fried rice with toasted Ilocos longanisa bits which made the rice tastes salty with a hint of vinegar sourness.

Fried rice with Ilocos longanisa bits

There's also Igado which is another breakfast dish that has red bell pepper, pork, pork liver with green peas. The taste of Igado is salty with a little spice that can wake the senses up.

Igado in the kitchen
Igado served

As the main course, we were each given a plate which consists of rice, bagnet, KBL sauce which stands for Kamatis (tomato in Filipino), Bagoong (shrimp paste in Filipino) and Lasona (onions in Ilocano), half salted egg and Ilocos longanisa. I did not wait any longer to get my fork and stab into my bagnet. It was quite crispy and it's not hard to bite! I dipped it into the KBL sauce like the Ilocanos do and ate it with my rice. The Ilocos longanisa is very good and tasted so much like what I've eaten for breakfast when I was in Pagudpud, Ilocos!

L-R: Bagnet, Ilocos longanisa, Salted Egg, KBL Sauce, Rice

Very crispy bagnet

In Ilocos, vegetables are always part of their meal. So came the Pinakbet which is made up of string beans, okra, bitter gourd (ampalaya) and tomato. This is also paired with the KBL sauce to give it a salty kick.


KBL sauce

Another interesting vegetable dish called Puqui Puqui was introduced to us. In Filipino, the word "puqui" means a female's vagina but in Ilocano, it is a vegetable dish composed of eggplant and tomato cooked in vinegar. According to Venice, there's also an Ilocano dish called Adobong Utong. "Utong" means nipples in Filipino but it's string beans in Ilocano and they also serve it in the restaurant.

Puqui Puqui

Because of the intriguing names, Puqui Puqui and Adobong Utong are some of the bestsellers in Empanada Nation.

Of course, to top the Ilocos dining experience which I'm loving so much, they served empanada last! I was able to take the photos of each step of making my empanada before I finally devoured it!

Mixing the powder with atsuete (orange color made from plant)

More mixing

and mixing.

Putting a cover on the dough

Flattening the dough

Putting young papaya strips

Notice the circular papaya strips?

Shredding the Ilocos longanisa using hands and making the circular shape as well

Putting the egg in the center of the circle

Folding the dough in half

Cutting the top part of the dough with a plate

Tada! Deep fried empanada!

Unlike the empanadas which I had in Ilocos, this empanada was filled with young papaya strips which according to Venice is the authentic empanada. Unfortunately, what I had in Ilocos was filled with cabbage so it's not so authentic. According to her, it takes a lot of effort and love in cooking to drain the water of the young papaya to be able to make this authentic empanada. Some Ilocanos who would like the easier way, use cabbage instead of the young papaya but true Ilocanos will prefer the young papaya filling.

Empanada with young papaya filling

I really felt loved eating each bite of the empanada because I can now understand the love to serve authentic Ilocano dishes is the main cause why Empanada Nation was built.

Menu of Empanada Nation. One can customize one's empanada.

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