Aside from shopping for antiques and furniture, Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur, offers a lot of options for food-trippers. With their hefty servings of deep-fried pork and flavorful street food packed with native sausages, Vigan is definitely a foodie destination for carnivores. You don’t even have to go far to enjoy a good meal. A lot of good eating places are located along Calle Crisologo, just walking distance from the plaza and top hotels in the city.
Among Vigan’s many restaurants, Cafe Leona, named after a famous Ilocana poet, satirist and playwright, Leona Florentina, is the most popular. You can try out a variety of traditional Ilocano specialties, and some fusion European, Japanese and Western dishes here. Other good places to check out are Hidden Garden and Celedonia Garden, a large native restaurant in Brgy. Beddeng Laud, located by the Mestizo River’s dock for River Heritage Tours. Here’s my pick of some of the must-eats in Vigan.
If you haven’t ever tasted bagnet (boiled and deep-fried pork belly), you’re missing out on life. Imagine a huge slab of meat with crunchy golden skin that has been deep-fried to perfection. Dunk it in some vinegar, and you can have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert (with beer). You can find this delicious and cholesterol-rich dish served in most Ilocano Restaurants in Vigan.
Vigan Longanisa is a small and plump native sausage, that has a strong garlic flavor and is yellowish in color. Although it can be eaten anytime, it’s traditionally served as breakfast fare paired with fried eggs and steamed or fried rice (longsilog). It is best dipped in Ilocos vinegar with plenty of chili, garlic and onions.
Pinakbet or pakbet is dish that’s indigenous to the Northern regions of the country, including Ilocos Sur. The term actually comes from the Ilokano word pinakebbet, which means shrunk or shriveled. The original Ilokano recipe uses mixed vegetables like eggplant, tomato, okra and string beans, among others steamed in a flavorful bagoong, or fermented shrimp or fish paste, for seasoning. This is a must-have vegetable dish you can enjoy with generous servings of meat or fish viands.
Dinakdakan is an appetizer dish made-up of boiled and grilled pig parts – in which ears, liver, and face (mascara) are the most commonly used; other parts such as stomach and intestines can also be utilized. Like bagnet, this goes great with beer! The dinakdakan na bagnet served at Happy Tummy, a budget family-style restaurant along Calle Crisologo, was pretty good.
Aside from serving traditional Ilocano cuisine, some restaurants in Vigan, like Cafe Leona, offer unique takes on the staples with their fusion dishes. Interesting items include sizzling bagnet sisig, bagnet bacon maki, longganisa maki, Bagnet KBL Pizza, Longanisa Pizza, and Pinakbet Pizza, to name a few.
One of the best things to eat in Vigan is definitely their empanada, a delicious patty stuffed with grated green papaya, toge or mung bean sprouts, shredded carrots, whole egg and skinless Vigan longganisa.
The fillings are placed inside a thin crust or shell made of rice flour, than fried to a crisp. Salt, oil and atchuete is mixed into the rice dough giving the empanada its signature bright orange color. This is best eaten with lots of vinegar.
During my visit, I also got to try “lumpianada,” which combines the hefty lumpia (spring roll) and the usual assortment of vegetables found in it along with the traditional fillings for the Vigan Empanada, including longanisa and egg. It’s like lumpiang toge but with meat. Yum.
Another popular street food sold in the plaza is Vigan Miki, a savory chicken noodle soup which makes use of white miki noodles that are traditionally made by hand. The broth has a bright reddish-orange color that comes from achuete or annatto, a coloring agent with a subtle flavor typically used in dishes like kare-kare and Pancit Malabon.
Other popular Ilocano street food include Okoy (deep fried shrimps mixed with flour and eggs), pinapaitan (bitter meat dish, made with either beef or goat bile and innards) and sinanglao (beef broth with beef innards).
Fast Food joints
I’m not a big fan of eating in fast food joints during trips, since they offer the same kind of food you can get back home. However, if you’re craving for something familiar, lots of popular fast food chains like McDonald’s, Jollibee and Max’s Restaurant can now be found near Calle Crisologo. What’s most interesting is that the buildings all follow a building code to retain the city’s old-style charm.
Coffee and sweets
Coffee Break is a pleasant place to stop for dessert, pastries and coffee. Nice cozy interiors and free WiFi!
Souvenir Food Products
Food products make the best souvenirs. Choices include frozen packages of bagnet, longanisa, bottles of sukang iloko (Ilocos vinegar), pure honey, basi (local sugarcane wine), wild berry wine, and chichacorn or cornik (dried corn with different flavors to taste like cheese, barbeque, garlic). Tongson’s Royal Bibingka is also very popular with tourists.
Ilocos Sur is more well-known for their wines, so I was surprised to find a great selection of foreign beers in the convenience store at the lobby of RF Aniceto Mansion (where I was checked in) including Pyramid Hefeweizen, Blue Moon, Ranger India Pale Ale, and Longboard.
Some colleagues and I had a craft beer tasting session, and I took a couple of bottles more home. Too bad most beers were already stale though.
WHERE TO EAT IN VIGAN:
- Cafe Leona
- AF Aniceto Mansion
- Happy Tummy
- Hidden Garden
- Celedonia Garden
- Uno Grille
- Bistro Amarillo
- Cafe Uno
- Coffee Break