10 Unique Ilocos Food to Delight on in the Philippines

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Ilocos sits in the northwestern part of the Philippines and is said to have one of the country’s strongest culinary traditions.

While in the Philippines attending a TBEX travel bloggers conference, we had a chance to explore regional cuisine, including in the northern Ilocos region.

Ilocos, located at the northern tip of the Philippines is bordered by the China Sea. It is home to many World Heritage Unesco Sites as well as several National Historical Landmarks.

Years of trade between Asia and the Americas, combined with the local biodiversity make the Ilocos region renowned for its amazing Ilocano cuisine. 

Ilocano food is surprising, delicious and exotic all at the same time. Some of the regional specialties, like pinakbet and dinuguan (savory pig’s blood) are now part of the national cuisine. 

While the list of Ilocano dishes and regional specialties is extensive, we offer you a culinary guide to navigate the region.
 Here are 10 unique llocos food not to miss on your travels to the north of the Philippines.

Ilocos Region Ilocos Food Authentic Food Quest
Map of Ilocos region in the Philippines
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1- Longganisa – A Vigan Food Speciality

Longganisa Ilocos Food Authentic Food Quest
Plump and juicy Longganisa sausages

Longganisa is an emblematic Ilocos food. These pork sausages are the star at any Ilocano table. The sausages from Vigan are the most famous and they are distinctly small and plump.

We tried this Ilocano food specialty while visiting Vigan in Ilocos Sur, a well preserved Spanish town, dating back to the 16th century.

These sausages are made from ground pork, mixed with garlic, vinegar and a mix of other local seasonings.

They are delicious with a spicy bite. As sausage lovers, we enjoyed the flavors in this unique Vigan food.

This is one of the Ilocos region famous cuisines and not to be missed on a trip to the Ilocos.

2- Batac Empanadas – Striking Orange Empanadas

Batac Emapanada Ilocos Food Authentic Food Quest
Don’t leave the Ilocos region without having an empanada, or two!

After falling in love with empanadas in Argentina, we could not wait to discover the traditional empanadas of Batac City. 

Batac is the oldest town in the Province of Ilocos Norte and was founded in 1587 by the Augustinians.

The city is famous for the Batac Empanadas which are considered some of the best in the country. 

So celebrated, there is even an Empanada festival that takes place every year on the 23rd of June.

One of the most striking characteristics of the Batac empanada is the bright orange color. The empanadas are deep fried and stuffed with green papaya, chopped up longganisa sausages and hard boiled eggs. 

The orange colored dough is made of rice flour and the color comes from the use of annatto seeds. 

Annatto is popular in South America and is used as a dye, medicine, and as an ingredient in many foods. It is a natural food coloring and makes for a fun eating experience. 

These empanadas are quite tasty and very different from the ones in Argentina. They are in their own right an experience not to be missed.

In the short video below, see how the locals make these Batac empanadas at Lanie’s Batac Special Empanada Restaurant, located in Batac, Ilocos Norte.

3- Bagnet – Deep Fried Crispy Pork Cracklings

Bagnet Ilocos Food Authentic Food Quest
Crispy Bagnet or pork belly meat

The Ilocano Bagnet which is also known as Chicharon Baboy is deep-fried pork. It is made of pork belly deep-fried in its own fat. 

Once fried, the pork belly is air dried up to drain the fat. This process is repeated over and over until the pork reaches its maximum crispiness. 

This Ilocano food was far from being our favorite. However, since pork and fat are so predominant in Filipino food, it is hard to skip this dish. 

Bagnet is a top favorite among Filipinos and another Ilocos region famous cuisines. If you love eating fried pork, you will be delighted.

Like the locals,  wash your bagnet down with a San Miguel, the popular Filipino beer.

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4- Pinakbet – Popular Mixed Vegetable Ilocos Food

Pinakbet Ilocos Food one of the best Ilocanos delicacies Authentic Food Quest
Pinakbet with shrimp and pork

Pinakbet is one of the most popular Ilocano dishes. It is a vegetable dish that can be found all over the country. 

This Illocano dish is essentially a vegetable stew made with tomatoes, eggplant, string beans, okra, and bitter gourd.

The preparation of this dish varies by region and the authentic Ilocano version uses small round eggplants and baby bitter gourd (ampalaya). 

Ilocano pinakbet uses a much loved fermented fish sauce to season the dish. This sauce, known as bagoong isda is an essential component of Filipino cuisine. 

Bitter Gourd Ilocos Food Authentic Food Quest
Bitter gourd is popular in the Philippines as well as in other Southeast Asian countries

Interestingly, for a vegetable dish, pinakbet is not vegetarian. The mixed vegetables are usually steamed in fish or shrimp sauce. While other versions of Pinakbet include pork. 

While in Manila, we were quite surprised to find chunks of pork in a pinakbet meal we had ordered. 

If you are looking for a purely vegetable dish, be sure to ask for no pork or seafood with your vegetables.

5- Okoy – Best Vigan Food “Shrimp Fritters

Okoy Ilocos Food and unique ilocos dish Authentic Food Quest
Delicious crispy Okoy

These delicious treats are crispy shrimp fritters cooked in their shell in a glutinous rice batter and shaped into a round form. 

Okoy fritters are then garnished with  fresh shallots and a mix of garlic and chili peppers.

The delicious flavors come to life when dipped in an Ilocos style vinegar called Sukang Iloko.  This mild and distinctive vinegar is used in Filipino and Illocano cuisine. 

It is often used to make sweet and sour sauces and is found in almost all Filipino kitchens.

We enjoyed these delicious fritters as snacks and they are an easy bite while waiting for dinner.

6- Poqui-Poqui – Ilocano Grilled Eggplant Dish

Poqui-Poqui one of the Best Ilocos Food Authentic Food Quest
Healthy serving of poqui-poqui, a vegetarian Ilocano food

This simple Ilocano food will please any vegetarian. In a country, where pork is a daily staple, it is hard to find any dish that is not served with meat or fish. However, you will find eggs battered in Poqui-Poqui.

Poqui-poqui is made with grilled eggplants sauteed with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Eggs are added and stirred with the other ingredients. 

All the ingredients are cooked together making this Ilocos food slightly soupy.

We enjoyed poqui-poqui and found it to be easy to eat with lighter ingredients than the other Ilocanos foods. It can be eaten as an appetizer, a main dish or a side dish.

The unusual name Poqui-poqui, is said to have originated from Hawaii where Filipinos migrated in the 1980’s. 

There, the word “poki” means “mash” or “slice” which aptly describes the texture of this Ilocano food.

You can also find this dish written as “poki-poki” or “puki-puki”.

7- Garlic and The Sinait Garlic Festival in the Garlic Capital of the North

Garlic to be found in any Ilocos Food Authentic Food Quest
Road side stand selling Garlic in the Ilocos region

Garlic known locally as “bawang” is a root crop that is native to the Ilocos region of the Philippines. 

This essential food condiment is found in every Filipino kitchen and is used to add flavor to almost every dish. 

What makes this particular garlic unique is that it is more pungent and aromatic compared to garlic from other countries.

Every year, from May 1st – May 3rd, thousands of locals and foreign tourists flock to Sinait town in Ilocos Sur which is referred to as the Garlic Capital of the North.

Unfortunately, we didn’t attend the festival as we were in the Philippines in October. That said,  this local festival is not to be missed. 

Festivities include local dancing competitions in garlic-inspired costume and the selection of Miss Garlic Festival. There is also a contest for the longest and most creative twined garlic.

8- Ilocos Norte – The Dragon Fruit Capital of the Philippines

Dragon Fruit one of the best Ilocos Food Authentic Food Quest
Red Dragon Fruit

While driving the Ilocos region, we were struck by multiple stands selling dragon fruits, all over the place. 

The dragon fruit known as “saniata” to locals, is produced by Ilocanos all year round.

We learned that Dragon Fruit was started by a local entrepreneur named Edita Dacuycuy, who started growing dragon fruits in her backyard several years ago. She spread her passion to other farmers and has been instrumental to promoting dragon fruits in the area.

Today, she manages Refmad Farms, with her daughter in Burgos town, where tourists and locals can learn about dragon fruits and pick it directly from the trees.

Dragon Fruits are beautiful to look at and packed with several health benefits. The fiber in the fruit helps with digestion and regulates blood sugar spikes and lowers bad cholesterol. 

Dragon fruits are also full of antioxidants which help clear the body of cancer causing free radicals. And, the fruits are rich in Vitamin B1, B2 and C, which help repair tissues and keep the skin healthy.

If you are curious about dragon fruit and want to try it, you can find it on Amazon as a dried fruit snack.

Ilocos Norte, hosts a Dragon Fruit Festival every July. If you are in the area at this time, don’t miss exploring the fresh fruits. 

You can also sample other dragon fruit products like ice cream, jam, wine, vinegar, tea, cookies, pastries, soaps and more.

9- Ilocos Chicacorn –  Popular Local Filipino Snack

Chichacorn a great Ilocos Food and snack Authentic Food Quest
Chichacorn snack also known as Cornick

Chichacorn are a favorite snack from the Ilocos Norte region. They are corn kernels that are cooked until crunchy. 

The corn variety used are white ones from plants that are common in the Philippines and not the sweet yellow corn that may be more familiar.

What makes the Ilocos Chichacorn different from the other types of crunchy corn kernels is that the kernels are puffed, making them a little easier to chew. 

We enjoyed these snacks while traveling around the Ilocos region. We discovered several flavors including; garlic, cheese, sweet and spicy, adobo, and barbecue.

Our favorite was the garlic flavor. If you’d like to try this popular Ilocos snack, click here for garlic flavored chichacorn from Amazon.

10- Dudol An Ilocano Food With  Asian Roots

Dudol Ilocos Food and great ilocanos dessert Authentic Food Quest
Dudol at the Guling festival (Photocredit: Alaric A. Yanos)

Dudol is a traditional dessert you will find in Ilocos, although it is also popular in Malaysia, Indonesia and Southern India. 

It is said to have come through the Malay and Indian settlements on the coastal towns of the Ilocos region before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Dudol is made of rice flour, coconut milk, sugarcane juice and anise. The secret to making a good dudol is to patiently and continuously stir the ingredients under a slow fire.

Sticky, thick and sweet, it is the perfect snack to calm your hunger or re-energize after physical activity.

Dudol is the featured local treat at the Guling-Guling festival in Paoay. 

Paoay is a coastal town home to one of the famous Unesco World Heritage sites in Ilocos Norte. 

During the Guling-Guling festival, the city celebrates its heritage and Asian roots and Dudol makes for the perfect symbol of the Ilocos food heritage.

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In Summary

The Ilocos region, famous for its cultural and historical sites, is worth exploring and most notably for the famous Illocano cuisine.

From Laoag, the capital of Ilocos Norte to the Historic City of Vigan, in Ilocos Sur, you will travel through unique heritage Ilocos food. 

Discover the unique produce of the region from garlic to dragon fruits. Surprising empanadas, pork belly meat and sweet glutinous rice, everything to conquer your palate.

Have you had Ilocos food before? Let us know in the comments below, your most tempting ilocos food.

Savor The Adventure!

Where to Stay in Laoag City and Vigan

Fort Ilocandia Resort, Laoag City

On your travels to Laoag City, the capital of Ilocos Norte region, book your stay at Fort Ilocandia Resort.

We stayed at this hotel and enjoyed the modern and traditional architecture.

With the friendly staff and delicious Filipino  cuisine you will enjoy relaxing ambiance.

Check pricing and book your stay when you click Fort Ilocandia Resort.

Hotel Veneto De Vigan, Vigan City

Located in the heart of Vigan, staying at Hotel Veneto De Vigan makes it easy to explore the surrounding sites. Vigan is one of the few Spanish towns in Asia, and probably the best preserved, dating back to the 16th century.

The spacious guest rooms and suites will welcome you with sophisticated Spanish interiors and stunning works of art. You will enjoy stunning architecture, hospitable staff and amazing Filipino delights.
While in Vigan, book your stay at Hotel Veneto De Vigan

FortIlocandia for Ilocos Food by Authentic Food Quest. The best ilocos food and dishes not to miss in the Philippines
Striking entrance at Fort Ilocandia Resort

Love Ilocos Food? Pin It!

Longganisa sausages a Ilocos Food in the Philippines by AuthenticFoodQuest

We were delighted to be part of the Ilocos World Heritage Tour organized by the Tourism Promotions Board of Philippines. Opinions expressed in this article are always our own.

67 comments

  1. Great article. I love how these 10 Ilocano favorites were presented both in pictures and in words. There is, however, just one thing I would like to comment on. The photo for the “pinakbet” is NOT the Ilocano version. It is the Tagalog and Bisaya (Visaya) version and the way other regions prepare the dish (there are many versions of this dish; it depends on which region it is cooked).

    The one in the photo is what we Ilocanos simply call “ginisang gulay” (sauteed veggies). In this case, we can just call it “ginisang sitaw, kalabasa at okra” (suateed string beans, squash/pumpkin and okra). In most cases, fish sauce (patis) or shrimp paste (bagoong alamang) is used to achieve that salty taste for their version of pinakbet. For Ilocano pinakbet, however, we use bagoong na isda (fish paste/anchovies paste).

    Trivia (I hope, for many :-)) : “Pinakbet” comes from the Ilocano word “pinakebbet” which is roughly translated to “shrunken” or “wrinkled”. In cooking pinakbet, lots of tomatoes should be used. The acidity of the tomatoes is supposed to “shrink” the vegetables (bitter gourd (or “ampalaya”/”parya”), okra, eggplant, etc. Ilocano pinakbet is not sauteed. Pork or fried fish may also be added for extra flavor.

    Also, if we strictly follow the ingredients of the Ilocano pinakbet, it is enough to have the basics: bitter gourd, eggplant, tomatoes, okra, onion or shallots, AND SWEET POTATO. Yes, we add sweet potato and NOT pumpkin nor squash! If malunggay/malunggay (moringa) fruit is in season, we also add this to the dish. Other Ilocano versions inlcude sitaw (string beans), bataw (hyacinth bean), patani (lima beans) and sigarilyas (winged bean).

    I hope this is informative. Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Interesting and mouth-watering post! All the food looked absolutely delicious, but I LOVE shrimp, so the Pinakbet with shrimps and pork. Will definitely have to make sure I find these dishes if I ever go there. Thanks for sharing these delicious-looking foods!

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  3. I really enjoyed visiting the Philippines, but the food failed to impress me. With all the fresh fish and seafood in the sea, I was disappointed that everything was fried or so sweet it made my teeth hurt. This is exactly the kind of place I want fresh, light things to eat.

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  4. The longganisa and empanadas are my favorite among those you featured (must be garlic-y!) I hope you also got to try other amazing Ilocano dishes like dinakdakan and dinengdeng!!!

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    • Yay, another Filipino food fan!! We also loved both the empanadas and the garlicky longganisa sausages..yum! We did try the dinengeng and enjoyed it as well. So many unique and delicious flavors in Filipino food 🙂

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  5. I have never heard of this part of the Philippines, but it sounds like it is worth a visit only because of its food alone. The empanadas and the dragon fruit look so tasty.

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    • Yes, the food in the north of the Philippines is amazing. We didn’t know about the region before we visited. Certainly a great place worth checking if your travels take you to the Philippines. And yes, the empanadas and dragon fruits are amazing!!

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  6. The bagnet and longanisa are my favorite Ilocos foods. But the taste can vary depends on who makes it. In general, it has a particular taste, but some have a sweeter version, some have a more garlic-y version. I like the more garlic-y

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  7. Wow incredible tour by you. I never knew of garlic capital in Philippines and there is a dragon fruit capital too?!!! Excellent food scene, one of the main reasons why I want to get there.

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    • Thank you. That’s one of the wonders of traveling through food, you get to discover so many unique aspects of a region. It was new for us learning the region was the capital to garlic and dragon fruits. Cheers!!

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  8. I’d love to return to the Philippines and visit other places, including Ilocos. Yummy post, by the way, the shrimp fritters looks delicious, very tempting! 🙂

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    • Since you’ve already been to the Philippines, you already know the food is amazing! The food in the Ilocos region is worth exploring on your next trip 🙂 And yes, the shrimp fritters are delicious 🙂

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  9. The Philippines are high on my list for beautiful places to visit, but I never thought about how much I might enjoy the food. Based on your list here, I have no doubts that I will enjoy the sights and the eats! I love Dragon Fruit too, so I’ll have to make sure to visit Ilocos!

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    • That’s wonderful to read about your desire to visit the Philippines. Most people don’t think about the food and so glad that this article is starting to whet your appetite on what you can expect. You’ll have a great time when you go and with this article and even more on the website, you’ll eat like a local 🙂

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  10. The Philippines seems like a pretty hard country to be a vegetarian in! I could eat dragon fruit for at least one meal a day though. Those empanadas also look awesome…I might even be willing to cheat and eat pork to try one.

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  11. I’m so hungry after reading this post! You had me at logganisa, hahahaha. I love the food in Asian countries so much but the batac empanadas look and sound different than anything I’ve ever tried. Bagnat would be a favorite of mine, I think I’m going to have to plan a trip to the Philippines:)

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    • Awesome!! So glad this article got you thinking about a trip to the Philippines just for the food! The food is worth discovering. Are there any local Filipino restaurants in your area? That might be a good place to start 🙂

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  12. I love the idea of Vigan pork sausage. Maybe it’s the dad in me but that just seems funny (or like a dad joke). Seriously though, the orange empanadas look amazing and the food here seems truly unique.

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  13. All the food looked absolutely delicious, but I LOVE shrimp, so the Pinakbet with shrimps and pork and Okoy looks scrumptious! Will definitely have to make sure I find these dishes if I ever find myself in the area.

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  14. I had heard of dragon fruit before, but never knew what it looked like. It’s so vibrant! I haven’t eaten yet today, so this is making me drool. I definitely need to try some cuisine from the Philippines, it looks so flavorful and delicious!

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    • Oh, you must try dragon fruits. They are so tasty and delicious and are now one of our favorite fruits. The food from the Philippines is quite varied and distinct, certainly worth getting to know. Thanks, Kate for stopping by.

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  15. What a mix of food! I would like to try the blood sausages, I had something similar in Italy a long time ago and they were very nice. I just tried dragon fruit this year and really liked it! I had a laugh when I saw the Boy Bawang packet, as this was a product I used to sell when I worked on a cruise ship and was firm favourtie of the Filipino crew!

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    • That’s awesome to hear that you are very familiar with the Boy Bawang snacks. Yes, incredibly popular in the Philippines. The blood sausages are cooked with just the right amount of spice which makes for an incredible meal. So glad you discovered dragon fruits, they are one of our favorite fruits. Thanks, Lucy.

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  16. It’s funny, I first thought that vigan was a typo and they are also offering vegan food – until I read that it’s a pork sausage – doesn’t sound vegan ? Since I’m eating basically everything, all foods sound delicious to me, but especially the shrimp and pork. I know dragon fruit from Viet Nam, but only the white one – and I absolutely love it.
    I think after this post I need to fix me a sandwich….?

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  17. We are SO excited to travel to the Philippines and this traditional food guide will be awesome to have during our trip! The traditional empanadas of Batac City sound absolutely amazing and so interesting that they have that orange color – I guess we’ll have to be prepared for that. Sticky, thick and sweet are three of my favorite dessert descriptives so Dudol sounds absolutely amazing! My mouth is watering just thinking of our future adventures in the Philippines!

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    • That’s awesome to read Val. Please do make sure to read the other articles on the website about the other local foods in the country. When do you travel? Please feel free to reach out with any questions. Have a delicious trip.

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  18. It looks like you go to try some of the best there is in the Philippines. We spent an entire month in the Philippines and I loved the breakfast pork sausages. I did, however, miss fresh fruit smoothies which seem to more available in other countries. No matter what the Philippines is a gorgeous place!

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    • You are so right Hannah, the Philippines has so much to offer in terms of beauty and food. It’s too bad you missed the fresh fruit smoothies, but glad to read you enjoyed the special local sausages. Lot’s of delicious options in the country!! Thanks for stopping by.

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  19. I love Asian cuisine but I’ve never tried Philipino dishes before but Those Empanades look very appealing but saying that so does everything else you have listed here. At least when I go to the Philippines i know what to look out for now 😀

    Reply
    • Filipino cuisine is quite varied and diverse and you’ll find local specialties across the country. Indeed the empanadas are a sure bet – always available and always good. Do keep the list for your trip to the Philippines. Cheers, Amit.

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  20. Interesting foods on this list. Out of all these I really would love to try the Okoy. I love a good old Shrimp Fritters when I can find them (very hard to find in the London area) 😀

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  21. This was a fun read since several of the dishes in here are similar to some we eat in Puerto Rico and Latin America (because of the Spain connection). We have longanisa (I have not eaten it in a long time), empanadas and pork cracklings (chicharron). Therefore, it would be nice to try the Iloco version of these dishes. Plus, I would like to try the rest too!

    Reply
    • Glad you enjoyed the article, Ruth. It’s true Spain carried their influence all around the world. Did not know Puerto Rico had longganisa sausages, those would be good to try. The ilocono versions are quite particular and really tasty. Thanks for stopping by.

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  22. I LOVE empanadas! Coincidentally, there’s a restaurant called ‘Love Empanadas’ where I live…and I love it, lol! I would definitely try to shrimp fritters as well. Haven’t ever tried dragon fruit but would be interested in that. Tasty post!

    Reply
    • Love the name of the restaurants (pun intended). We are empanada fans as well. What kind of empanadas do they serve? The shrimp fritters are simple and delicious. A nice snack to pick you up during the day. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers.

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  23. It is ridiculous how good the food looks. I’m Puerto Rican, so when I saw the Bagnets I think my stomach growled. No, but seriously, there are so many things I would like to try. The Chicaron and the Longganisa being on my top three with the Bagnets. I also would like to try dragon fruit, which we can get here, but most of the time is super expensive.

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  24. Your food photographs are beautiful.
    Bitter gourd is also used as a vegetable in India, here we get it in summer months. It is considered good for health.

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  25. Wow, this is a region I would love to explore, you’re fueling my enthusiasm! The Okoy shrimpfritters look amazing, and I love that they have a garlic festival, I adore garlic. Sign me up for next year!

    Reply
    • Awesome to hear Rachel. The Philippines is a wonderful country to visit and the food in the north is steeped in rich history. As a garlic lover, you’d love the festival. Hope you can get there next year 🙂 Cheers!

      Reply

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