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Ilocos in the northern part of the Philippines is one of the country’s strongest culinary traditions.
Years of trade between Asia and the Americas, combined with the local biodiversity, make the Ilocos region renowned for its amazing Ilocano cuisine.
Ilocano foods are both delicious and exotic, with some of the regional specialties now part of the national cuisine.
While visiting the Philippines, we explored Ilocano’s exquisite cuisine. And while the list of Ilocano dishes and regional specialties is extensive, we share this culinary guide to help you navigate the food.
Here are 11 unique llocano delicacies not to miss on your travels to northern Philippines.
Northern Philippines and Its Top Ilocanos Food
Located at the northern tip of the country, Ilocos is bordered by the China Sea and is home to several World Heritage Unesco Sites and national landmarks.
From Laoag, the capital of Ilocos Norte, to the Historic City of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, you will travel through unique heritage Ilocos food that is sure to excite your taste buds.
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1. Longganisa Sausages – A Vigan Food Speciality
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. And, as sausage lovers, this was one of our favorite Ilocos Sur food delicacies.
Longganisa sausages is one of the most famous food in Ilocos region. If you visit Ilocos Sur, these tasty little bites should be at the top of your must-try food list.
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2. Batac Empanadas – Striking Orange Empanadas
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 its 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 Ilocos’ 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 Latin America and is used as a dye, as 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.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: If you want to make Batac empanadas at home, see our simple Best Ilocos Empanada Recipe: How To Make Filipino Batac Empanadas
Watch Our Video About Batac Ilocos Empanada
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3. Bagnet – Deep Fried Crispy Pork Cracklings
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 other Ilocos region famous cuisines. If you love eating fried pork, you will be delighted by this regional dish.
Like the locals, wash Chicharon Baboy or bagnet down with San Miguel, the popular Filipino beer.
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4. Pinakbet – Popular Mixed Vegetable Ilocos Food
Pinakbet is one of the most popular Ilocano dishes. It is a vegetable dish that can be found all over the country.
It is an indigenous dish named after the Ilokano word for “shriveled” or “shrunk.”
This Illocano dish is essentially a stew made with various vegetables like 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 known as ampalaya.
The vegetables are then cooked down until they have “shriveled” in bagoong monamon, a fermented fish sauce made from salted anchovies.
This sauce known as bagoong isda, a much-loved fermented fish sauce and it is an essential component of Filipino cuisine.
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.
This much-loved Ilocos vegetable stew is a popular dish and one of the Ilocano delicacies not to be missed.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: If you want to bring the flavors of Ilocos into your home kitchen, try our simple Pinakbet recipe. This simple recipe combining vegetables and pork is easy to whip up for lunch or dinner.
5. Okoy – Best Vigan Food “Shrimp Fritters“
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 easy to munch on while waiting for dinner.
6. Poqui-Poqui – Ilocano Grilled Eggplant Dish
This popular Ilocano dish 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 lighter than 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 1980s.
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 – One of Ilocos Sur Food Delicacies
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 foreigners 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 a must-visit for any and all food lovers.
Festivities include local dancing competitions in garlic-inspired costumes and the selection of the Miss Garlic Festival Queen. There is also a contest for the longest and most creative twined garlic.
8. Ilocos Norte Foods – Dragon Fruit Capital of the Philippines
While driving through the Ilocos region, we were struck by multiple stands selling dragon fruits, seemingly everywhere!
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 them in her backyard several years ago.
She spread her passion to other farmers and has been instrumental in promoting the 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 them directly from the trees.
Dragon Fruit is 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.
They are also full of antioxidants and rich in vitamins B1, B2, and C, which help repair tissues and keep the skin healthy.
If you are curious about dragon fruit, you can try Dragon Fruit powder from Amazon and use it in baking or smoothies.
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.
9. Ilocos Chicacorn – Popular Local Filipino Snack
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 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 in 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.
11. Tupig – Filipino Rice Cakes
Tupig is a common dish served in the northwestern regions of the Philippines.
It is a rice cake made primarily from fermented glutinous rice, sugar, coconut milk, and strips of coconut.
This popular street food is wrapped in banana leaves and baked on charcoal.
You’ll find this tasty dish across several northern Philippines regions, including Ilocos, Tarlac, and Pangasinan, particularly during the Christmas season.
The sweet, coconut flavors are nothing short of delightful. It is often served alongside a hot cup of salabat or ginger root tea and the combination is a treat for the taste buds.
Be sure to savor these Filipino rice cakes, a much-loved food in Ilocos.
The Ilocos region, famous for its cultural and historical sites, is absolutely worth exploring on your trip to the Philippines.
If nothing else, a journey through Ilocos is worth it for the famous Illocano cuisine alone.
On your journey sampling Ilocos delicacies, discover the unique produce of the region, from garlic to dragon fruits.
Sample surprising empanadas, pork belly meat, and sweet glutinous rice – everything you need to invigorate your palate.
Have you had Ilocos food before? In the comments below, please let us know which popular Ilocano dish tempts you the most.
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Disclosure: This Ilocos World Heritage Tour was organized by the Tourism Promotions Board of The Philippines. All views and opinions expressed are our own. Full bellies and happy taste buds too.
Claire is co-founder of Authentic Food Quest and a lover of simple and exquisite cuisine. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, she has been traveling the world as a digital nomad, creating content about local food experiences.
Her advice from visiting 45 countries and more than 240 food cities has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post. She has also co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
An ex-mechanical engineer, Claire is responsible for SEO, keeping the website running, and the fun food & travel videos on YouTube.
When Claire is not eating, she can be found running or cycling. Find out more about Authentic Food Quest