If I wasn’t fasting in preparation for Easter Sunday, I’d say Ilocos starved me. The menus of roadside eateries and higher-end restaurants were laden with dead animals – it made me sad they didn’t observe Lent – and animal byproducts. Truth is the only proper meal I had during the three-day, two-night retreat with the family was a cup of plain unpolished rice, atsara (pickled papaya), four slices of cucumber, soy sauce with vinegar, and lemongrass tea. (Special thanks to Pannzian Beach.)
But what did I expect? Ilocos Region takes pride in its love for bagnet (deep fried pork belly) – which is bad for animals and bad for you, by the way. Luckily, I found vegetarian pasalubong to take back to Nueva Ecija.
Here they are:
- Chichacorn. The quintessential product of Ilocos Region, chichacorn is always your safest bet for meat-free (though not necessarily healthy) pasalubong. It can be found in practically every souvenir store. It comes in different variants, some of which are not vegetarian. Choose garlic, spicy, and sweet and spicy to be safe.
- Namnama’s Garlic Camote Chips. Namnama has various fried chips but most of them had honey. I was lucky to find this variant at Marsha’s and it features mountain-grown sweet potatoes, garlic, and vegetable oil as its only ingredients.
- Sukang Iloko. Ilocos is also known for its vinegar. Cormelfoods (available at Marsha’s) follows century-old tradition and makes theirs from sugarcane juice and dried leaves, bark, and seeds of samak, a medicinal plant. You can also buy spicy variants at Tiongson’s at Calle Crisologo in Vigan.
- Tablea. Chocolate-e? Chocolate-a? Being a self-confessed chocolate addict, I’m really happy that there seems to be no shortage of chocolate in places I’ve visited in the past six months (Davao, Cebu, Tuguegarao, and Ilocos). Their tablea comes in the form of chocolate balls or discs.
- Aling Presing’s Taro Chips. With native taro, vegetable oil, garlic and salt as its ingredients, taro chips are a gem amidst the animal- and animal byproduct-laden spread of pasalubong at a souvenir shop beside Paoay Church.
So there. Hard, but it turns out it’s not completely impossible to find vegetarian food in bagnet country. I just hope I can say the same for a proper sit down meal.