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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.
1- Longganisa – 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. 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
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
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 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.
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.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Make Pinakbet at home with this simple Pinakbet Ilocano Recipe – How To Make Easy Filipino Pakbet
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 an easy bite while waiting for dinner.
6- Poqui-Poqui – Ilocano Grilled Eggplant Dish
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 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
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 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 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.
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
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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.
Claire is a culinary explorer who travels the world in search of the best local foods. She is always looking for her next culinary adventure to bring you the best bites while exploring new places.