Snackin’ at Xian’s Choice

Fresh Lumpia (Spring Roll)

Even with a prime location in Laoag, Kentucky Fried Chicken lasted only a year. Let’s face it, Ilocanos are frugal especially when it comes to food. Speaking about the shelf life of an eatery here, didn’t you notice, the paksiw, miki, hi-bol, and empanada places stay longer than your average fancy eatery? The moneyed investors eying food business in Ilocos should think twice — that’s just my two cents.

Xian's Choice

We all love good budget food, and so I started a local food adventure in the most unlikely places and thanks to friends who are free-spirited enough to share the joints they frequent, I was able to find mention-worthy Xian’s Choice (east of the old Ivan Dominic along P. Gomez St.).

The stars in this garage converted into a canteen are fresh lumpia, palabok, spaghetti, miki and hi-bol (paksiw with pancit). The servings are comfortably sized. I paid only 65 pesos for one single palabok and two servings of vegetable lumpia. It’s singkamas and not ubod, yet it roughly tastes like the real thing. The size is actually bigger than the one at Max’s which costs way a lot more.

Palabok

Neighbors and students from the nearby provincial high schools and colleges frequent the place I heard. The merienda size palabok is huge enough for two if you’re ordering lumpia on the side. Though it lacked  the usual fastfood palabok garnishings such as tinapa flakes and shrimps, the chicharon topping was not “tipid” and the sauce was flavorful. They also have bilao size palabok, ideal for potlucks.

Fresh Lumpia

I love fresh lumpia, so this place is love!

Photographed by Blauearth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2014

Philippine Fiesta Everyday at Halo-Halo de Iloko Balay

Halo-halo Fiesta

Whilst we’re moving into the burning days of the year in northern Ilocos, it’s forever summer in San Fernando, La Union. Following a trip to the Halo-Halo de Iloko Balay, my new-found respect for La Union’s culinary scene makes me want to return to Halo-Halo de Iloko over and over again. During our 2-day stay in San Fernando for the Mt. Dayawen Mountain Bike Downhill Challenge 2013, we escaped to the restaurant at least two times.

The establishment could not cope with the demand for jubilant buko halo-halo and hence we got the next best frosty sweet course, fiesta halo-halo (in an extratall glass rather than on a bed of coconut), intensified with yema pandan and ube add-ons, so rich, yet so good!

Best Summer Cooler: Halo-Halo

Don’t be fooled by the generic looking halo-halo. The ube halaya (candied purple yam) is said to come from San Gabriel (honestly, I don’t know where it is), and there’s also cornflakes, nata de coco, ice cream, bits of cheese, sago (tapioca), some kidney beans, soft balls that taste like milk pastillas, glazed coconut strips (a la bucayo), buko gulaman (jello), carabao’s milk and more or less secret fixings only Xavier Mercado (the owner and creator) knows.

Halo-Halo de Iloko Balay, San Fernando, La Union

{Famished Luis, Christian, Christine, Gayle and Florence.}

Halo-halo de Iloko Balay

The different palabokano is a mound of bihon noodles covered in heavy anatto-tinted sauce with apparent longaniza bits and a scattering of chicharon crumble. The sauce seemed to have some aligue (crab fat) into it, but I might be wrong.

Okoy

One amongst the several house-stylized Filipino items, okoy (squash and shrimp cakes) appear like they’ve been baked instead of fried. The interesting default texture is better suited to the bready quality of the starchy kind of native squash.

We failed to try one more curious item, emparedados, a native cheeseburger alluding to Vigan longaniza.

Floaty gulaman cubes adds another dimension to the house iced tea.

Halo-halo de Iloko Balay 2

We were less crazy about the binagoongang baboy garnished with julienned mangoes (supposedly a bestselling surf-rice), which was done in a salty sort of way. Likewise with the fish (bangus) escabeche in not-your-usual traditional soupy camatis (tomato) base that is more like tangy Chinese style sweet and sour sauce.

Halo-halo de Iloko Balay 5

{The tiniest restaurant helper, the owner’s cute six-year old son.}

Halo-halo de Iloko Balay 4Halo-halo de Iloko Balay 3

The original location not too far away got too tiny for the clientele the restaurant has mustered over its nine prolific years. Tourists and locals kept pouring in, but nonetheless service was friendly and pleasant.

Halo-halo de Iloko dares to be different, everything about it has that festive stamp, radiating a fanciful mood that mimics the vivacious side of the Filipino culture.

(Big thanks to the management who surprised me with a bottle of sinamak-like vinegar dip.)

Halo-Halo de Iloko Balay 12 Zandueta St., San Fernando, La Union • Phone No.: (072) 700 2030

Photographed by Blauearth © Blauearth™ All Rights Reserved 2009-2013