Ilocos is so huge that there’s no way one can explore the two provinces in one weekend. Not even in a lifetime for some. Like I just discovered Vigan’s take on the centuries-old chicken pipian that traces its roots back to the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade, from 1565 to 1815. We had it at Kusina Felicitas inside Grandpa’s Inn on our way back from Dagupan 2 weekends ago.
I’ve been raring to try pipian after I sampled Chef Nic Rodriquez’s epazote plant (pasotes) in his Bistro Candon backyard. The minty, slightly citrusy epazote is a staple in traditional Mexican cooking, lending aromatic flavor to mole sauces. Apperaing similar to the achuete-tinged Vigan pipian, the Mexican pipian is made from a more complex recipe, customarily including different spices, ground squash seeds, nuts, cilantro, chili peppers, among many others. Though Vigan uses ground rice as a thickener in the same manner it is used in kare-kare, I realized how strange it was described to me by a waiter at a restaurant in Laoag as arroz caldo-like, add to that a seemingly unenthusiastic expression on his face when I asked if he would recommend it to me and my foreigner guest.
After rabidly falling for the chicken pipian at Grandpa’s, I’m absolutely endorsing it as a must try Ilocano dish, the one in Grandpa’s to be clear.
Photographed by Blauearth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2013
On the way back to Laoag, we reached Vigan in sync for dinner. Cafe Leona was full I think (too tired, I slept my ass off), so they tried Grandpa’s Inn’s Kusina Felicitas, another popular resto down Sur.
I got Abra candied karmay and pias (kamias) from the pasalubong counter behind me. Unfortunately, the Carmelite nuns of Laoag stopped making those mouthwatering sweet-sour-and-salty dried fruits of my childhood. The first time I saw the hubby pop any of the strange stuff I love… haven’t even seen him touch those Chinese preserved fruits at Bee Tin? He liked the karmay, btw (good to know his food taste is moving to new directions).
The dinengdeng, bagoong rice, poqui-poqui, grilled capiz and chicken karimbuaya arrive. The rice looks like it was inspired by the Thai salted fish fried rice. Kusina Felicitas’ version is a mix of greens (kangkong I suppose), bagoong alamang, pork tocino and salted egg bits… layers upon layers of saliva-inducing flavors that get the brain into normal mode — ideal with the very Ilocano dinengdeng!
Such a waste, the capiz shellfish were not fresh like we expected. Kusina Felicitas redeems itself with the chicken karimbuaya. Curious, I forked one teeny-weeny piece. I’ve never tasted such a thing before, provocative! I ended up eating more (luckily, my immune system was abnormally okay). My initial encounter with karimbuaya (just came to know it is a kind of thorny euphorbia plant that is perfect for grilled meats including lechon). Sweetish, full-bodied, with a pleasant slight tinge of tangy-bitter taste.
Capped the meal with Vigan peanut pralines, more popularly known as turones de mani.
Photographed by Blauearth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2012
We intended to lunch at Kusina Felicitas at Grandpa’s Inn. The place was full, so we were directed to the Cafe Uno right next door. They gave us 2 menus. I set my eyes on the poqui poqui balls, a ‘Chefs on Parade’ award winning concoction according to the Kusina Felicitas menu. Poqui poqui salad is predominant in Ilocos. Coming across this fresh and novel idea on the ‘now famous grilled eggplant with KBL (kamatis, bagoong, lasona)’ infused with poignant flavors of red chili and green and red curry spices is a virginal experience.
Classified food pornography. The gorgeous plate presentation… stimulating, mouth-watering… evanescent… a knockout!
For the tiny buddy, grilled ribeye steak from the Uno Grille.
Kusina Felicitas, Grandpa’s Inn
# 1 Bonifacio Street cor. Quirino Blvd., Vigan, Ilocos Sur, Philippines
Tel. No. (077) 772-2118
Photographed by Blauearth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved