Far from Vegan in Vigan
My first taste of Ilocano cuisine was a breakfast of Vigan Longanisa from Bistro Amarillo at Hotel Salcedo de Vigan, where we stayed. I was surprised to see that they offered poached eggs as an option on the breakfast menu, and the gooey yolk mixed with the rice along with bites of meaty longanisa was the perfect welcome to Ilocos. The food was well plated, and even the atchara was good. I loved the effort that went into the food at Bistro Amarillo. It’s also perhaps the prettiest restaurant in Vigan.
Sinanglao was number one on my must-try list of Vigan delicacies, even over the much more heralded bagnet, empanada and longanisa. In their book Linamnam, Claude and Mary Ann Tayag recommended Halftime on the corner of Gov. A. Reyes and Luna streets, but it was nowhere to be found — possibly long closed. Instead, we trooped over to Plaza de Salcedo where the food stalls were hawking some sinanglao for breakfast, along with other traditional Ilokano fare.
It was this beef innard broth that I was after, though. I think every stall had their own combination of offal used. The one I chose, which had the most patrons, had thick cuts of beef, probably from the shoulder, as well as skin, coagulated blood and some other unidentifiable (by my novice eyes) bits and pieces. I’ve read that Sinanglao has been compared by some to the Vietnamese pho, but I disagree. The only similarity would be the use of beef and broth. Sinanglao doesn’t have noodles. Instead, it may be enjoyed with rice, if preferred. What makes it truly unique is the cow bile that is added to the broth, the greenish brown substance in the center bottle in the above-right photo. According to the Tayags, it’s squeezed out from the masticated grass taken from the cow’s stomach after it is fed one last time and slaughtered. It’s unforgivingly bitter, with a bit of grassiness and the distinct taste unique to animal intestines. It’s quite nasty, to say the least, when taken on its own, and it reminded me of those early college years when we would drink way too much at a friend’s house. I tried a couple of spoonfuls to make sure. Mixed into the broth though, the bile gives the sinanglao a more complex and unique flavor that actually grows on you. Needless to say, this was an interesting experience that I wouldn’t mind repeating.
Lunch was at Abuelitas, a literal hole-in-the-wall that had a selection of turo-turo menu items. Their empanada and bibingka were must-try items on the menu, but the latter was only available in boxes of 12. Thus, we ordered bagnet with KBL (kamatis, bagoong at lasona, or tomato, fermented fish sauce and onion), the aformentioned empanada, poqui-poqui (mashed eggplant “omelette”) and rice. The bagnet was excellent, with just the right amount of fat to go wih the crispy skin. Enjoying it with KBL was a revelation, as I would usually have lechon kawali or Manila-style bagnet with either liver sauce or a mix of soy sauce, vinegar and onions. The poqui-poqui was interesting as well, despite my personal bias against eggplant dishes in general. As for the empanada, I shall be discussing it in the next post about searching for the best one in Vigan.
After a day of indulging in porcine delights, we were too full to have a real dinner, so we opted to spend sundown on Calle Crisologo, watching the kalesas and people pass its cobblestone streets over a couple of drinks. Cafe Leona came well-recommended for said purpose by the lady at the tourism office. The menu, which we passed on, was a mix of Japanese, Italian and Ilocano dishes. The drink list was juat as expansive, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a German hefeweizen. Schofferhofer may not be my favorite wheat beer, but it’s better than the Oettingers and Paulaners out there, and a steal at P150 for a 500-ml bottle.
We ended up moving to a 24-hour convenience store that served beer in front of Plaza Burgos. I thought I had hit the jackpot when I found Pyramid hefeweizen out of Seattle on the bottom shelf for only P100. Upon pouring the beer into the glass, the head quickly dissipated – uncharacteristic for a wheat beer. I took a sip and a swallow, and it was vinegar. The label turned out to have an expiration date of 2012. Oh well. I returned the beer and had to make do with a bottle of Red Horse instead.
Back at the hotel, we tried a small bottle of mango wine, produced locally and bottled specially for Hotel Salcedo de Vigan. It was interesting- a bit sweet with a funky fermented flavor (alliteration not entirely intended) that reminded me of home-brewed beer, but not exactly the kind I particularly enjoy.
Along with the wine and another beer, we had a late night snack of Crispy Bagis. Yummy. Fried pork intestines. This was much better than anything you would get in Manila: clean-tasting and well-seasoned, with some sukang Iloko for dipping. It’s too good to be considered offal.
Thus ended a day full of fried food, pork and innards. Onward north we would head over the next couple of days.