(Somewhere along the Pasuquin Highway, Ilocos Norte.)
This is not my first time in Ilocos Norte but each time I visit, there is always something new to discover. While my first visit two years ago was focused on sight-seeing and visiting tourist destinations and landmarks, this visit I focused more on enjoying the food and local products.
During my road trip from Kapurpurawan Rock formation back to Laoag, our vehicle passed by a dozen road-side vendors in Pasuquin highway selling the same ubiquitous products of garlic, onions, iodized salt and sukang iloko.
If you love to cook and who like me, come from a far-away place where ingredients are very expensive and if you have plenty of room in your vehicle then you are in such luck. If you want you can fill all the empty spaces of your vehicle with all these beautiful yet inexpensive products that are great ideas for pasalubongs to family, friends or if you just want to fatten your own kitchen and cupboard.
Garlic/ Bawang (Allium Sativum L.) –
Once proudly grown by the Ilocos garlic farmer, its production has long been threatened by the influx and smuggling of garlic coming from Taiwan affecting the farmer’s profitability. It started when Republic Act 1296, the law that restricted the importation of certain vegetables was lifted by former President Fidel V. Ramos in 1996.
Because of this, it has become much cheaper for the farmer to plant something else like corn to replace the once profitable cash crop garlic.
Garlic is a staple of the Ilocano cuisine but since the Taiwan garlic is cheaper, vendors and restaurants started using it to keep business cost down on food staples and ingredients.
Who can compete with the imported Taiwan garlic once sold in the markets at P20/kilo when the law was lifted in 1996 compared to the Ilocos White’s production cost of P30/kilo? Once sold at P180/kilo in 1995, the Ilocos White has since been sold at P40/kilo.
People interested at preserving the Ilocos White is suggesting that though it cannot compete with the price of Taiwan garlic, it may have a chance to survive by looking for a niche as organic garlic geared towards people who value the quality of taste over price. Currently, the Ilocos White is being sold at P120/bunch by the road side vendors.
The local onion or shallots in Ilocos is called lasona. Farmers noticed that the first variety they were cultivating was of poor quality because it was prone to premature decomposition. Due to this, the local farmers shifted to a hybrid onion variety which boosted production and increased the yield and profitability of the Ilocano farmers.
Lasona is also one of staples of the Ilocano cuisine giving it roundness of flavor and color. Depending on where you buy it, a bunch is between P80- P100.
The Sukang Iloko is prized for its distinctive very sour taste and dark color. It is coveted by vinegar aficionados locally as well as abroad. Sukang Iloko is made from fermented sugarcane juice then ‘samak’, a plant extract is added to darken the color. The sugarcane juice is then stored in earthenware called ‘burnay’ jars and allowed to ferment for some time. The first stage will produce basi, then when allowed to ferment longer, it will turn to vinegar.
This ubiquitous vinegar available in Ilocos highway stalls, markets and souvenir shops is a key ingredient to Ilocano cuisine such as dinakdakan, dinuguan (dinardaraan), paksiw (sinaglao) where the vinegar is infused in the dish to bring out its individual unique flavor. In a particular roadside stall in Pasuquin highway, three bottles of Sukang Ilocos cost P100.00
Considered to be one of the finest salts in the Philippines, the salt making process is both an art and a discipline based on age-old family traditions that is passed on through generations of salt makers of Ilocos flavouring countless cuisines locally as well as abroad.
And these are just a few of the products that you can find along the side of an Ilocos Highway. Other products like Bagnet, Vigan longganisa, pottery and empanada are topics for another article. So see you next time!