While this popular delicacy is not an Ilocano original (It was introduced here by our Spanish colonizers), empanada has become as Ilocano as saluyot, marunggay, and baggoong. It comes from the verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread.
In the Ilocos dichotomy that is Norte and Sur, two versions emerged from two key locations: Batac and Vigan. It’s not the first time someone compared the two Ilocos empanadas, but I will be more upfront about my verdict.
This comparison results from a series of store visits, interviews with tourists and locals, online reviews, direct observation, and, of course, product tasting conducted this summer in various empanada stalls in Vigan, Ilocos Sur and in Batac, Ilocos Norte.
For purposes of this comparison, Batac Empanadas, particularly those sold at the young city’s Riverside Empanadaan, are considered as the Ilocos Norte standard. On the other hand, the Vigan standard are those sold at Plaza Burgos and stalls like Irene’s and Abuelita’s, which follow a common recipe. I have to make this clear because other variants have sprouted in both provinces, like the crispy empanada sold in Bacarra and the sweet empanada served at a stall in Laoag City, both in Ilocos Norte. Then there are the empanada variants sold at Insiang’s and Hidden Garden in Vigan City, and the Candon, Ilocos Sur version which, interestingly enough, looks every inch a poor clone of the Batac empanada.
How do we proceed with the comparison? Taste, I admit, is highly relative because one tends to prefer what she is accustomed to. This is evident in the response made by Malot Ingel, an anthropologist from Vigan.
“Kahit nag-eexplore ako sa maraming iba’t ibang klaseng pagkain. I mean, kahit foreign food, halimbawa Italian, gusto ko rin naman ‘yun. Pero pagdating sa Ilokano food, napaka-conservative ko, na kung ano ‘yung alam kong lasa, mag-i-stick ako dun. Halimbawa, ang pipian ng Vigan, very particular ‘yan. Minsan nilalagyan nila ng butter to improve the taste supposedly, nagiging unacceptable sa’kin ‘yun. In the same way, kapag empanada, Vigan empanada lang ‘yung gusto ko. I mean, maraming beses ko nang nalasahan ang empanada ng Batac, sabi nila masarap, pero di ko matanggap-tanggap ang lasa ng empanada ng Batac.”
I fully understand Malot’s point, and this preference for what one has come to call her own is why I found it important to conduct interviews with people who are from neither of the two provinces. For proper disclosure, I am from Laoag but I tried to write this feature as objectively and balanced as humanly possible.
We’re now ready to dissect the two empanadas. Let’s get ready to rumble. Continue reading