'Bagnet pinakbet' lures you this long weekend-and the beach

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - "Country Cooking... is a Thursday Food column we're running today in time for the long weekend, to guide traveling foodies.

A long weekend is before us. Some will be in cemeteries, staying through a vigil. Others will go out of town, just to take advantage of the extra vacation days. If you're going somewhere, consider Currimao in Ilocos Norte. That is, if you can still get reservations.

My own out-of-town breather there was done months ago. To the beach was the battlecry. And so we arrived in Ilocos Norte on the evening flight.

We were hungry. Thankfully, La Preciosa on Rizal Street in downtown Laoag, a house converted to a restaurant, was kept open because we were expected. Owner Pam Arragoza made the band stay to entertain us. But our attention was on the table, whereIlocano traditional dishes were not only for nourishment, but reintroduced us to good cooking.

Poki-poki always makes me smile because of its risque name (to Tagalogs, anyway) and how good a dish it is for such simple ingredients of egg and eggplant, not an omelet but a good mix.

Pork power again was there in the dinacdacan, pork ear, chin, and liver mixed in vinegar, and bagnet pinakbet, the crunchy pork belly (or chicharon, as they call it in this part of Ilocos) with the quintessential Ilocano vegetable dish.

That more than sustained us on the 45-minute drive to our Currimao lodging at the artful Sitio Remedios. There the rooms are in individual cottages, though that word isn't the best description for the living quarters with antique furniture and beautiful abel (the local cotton weave) bedcovers. We found our names spelled out with flower petals on the bed (www.sitioremedios.com).

Welcome sound

The waves were our welcome sound in the morning but every surge was so strong that we couldn't even swim properly. It reminded me of All Souls Day in La Union, when the waves made it possible for my siblings and me to ride them right to the shore; we ended up with scratches on the body when we got our technique wrong. Oh yes, the proper way is to extend the arms but curl up your fingers. Fingers down will mean a rough tumble inside the wave and a sand scrubbing.

We went for a more serene swim in the resort pool, only about a four-breast stroke length, but exercise enough. That was to prepare us for the eating.

Breakfasts at Sitio included the miki, far richer than what you can get in other parts of the country; empanada bought the night before in Batac, tsokolate and rice, suman such as tupig, the wilted burnt banana leaves wrapped around cooked glutinous rice with coconut.

Lunch was at Sam Blas' Saramsam (Rizal Street) in Laoag. I like it that every time we go there, something new is added to the menu, the proprietor's creative use of Ilocos ingredients as well as traditional cooking. There was the insarabasab, roasted pork cut seasoned with vinegar, salt, and pepper. The pakbet vegetables were arranged neatly with bagnet pieces. Kinilaw of fish was borrowed from the way Visayans do it.

Blas had just come from the farm, and introduced us to the wild mushrooms, the uong that is a rare treat, saut?ed simply. And to the ipon, the Ilocano small fish delicacy that was made into lumpia instead of the usual kilawin or torta.

But it was for lunch the next day where the setting was changed, a short walk from Sitio Remedios to another resort also owned by Dr. Joven Cuanang. It's called "Palayupuy,... Ilocano for sea breeze, though the wind during that season was more gusty than breezy. Hence, the rooms enjoy natural air conditioning and the floors, walls, and furnishings are made of bamboo.

We gathered around the table for our lunch. My favorite pinapaitan at long last was offered, goat innards cooked with bile that was done so well we finished off our bowls of the soupy dish. There was fish paksiw that had thin slices of young ginger on top, the rhizomes less pungent, and so could be eaten with the fish.

Cassava cake was our sweet goodbye.

And so we flew back home, relaxed yet energized long enough to last until this coming long weekend.

Cebu Pacific flies Manila to Laoag daily for the lowest year-round fare of P1,099 using Airbus A319 service four times weekly and a thrice weekly ATR service.

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