During the 5-day Easter holiday weekend, the family decided to pack some bags and board the bus all the way to the Northern part of the archipelago. It was, to say the least, a road-trip filled with stiff legs and even stiffer necks, but going with a group of family friends seemed to have made the long travel somewhat bearable.
People go to Ilocos mostly for its rich historical sites. During the 16th century, the Spaniards arrived in their giant ships and began introducing Roman Catholicism to the natives. They built grand churches and bell towers that up to this day are still being visited by the devout and frequented by travellers (making it a pain to shoot photographs because of the heads popping up everywhere!).
Ilocos is also mentioned on several accounts in Philippine history books because of the many acts of resistance to colonialism made by local heroes.
The Ilocos province is divided into two: Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. Even though they belong to one province, the two could not be more different from each other right, especially looking from a political standpoint. However both areas similarly have a lot of old churches, with large courtyards and beautifully constructed interiors and altars to boot. We visited the Sta. Maria Church, St. William’s (Laoag) Cathedral, Paoay Church and the St. Augustine Parish. Each of the churches has its own story, with one church even getting cracked in half by an earthquake several decades past.
Back in the Spanish colonial times, it took more than 10 years to finish some of these churches, because every time a new friar came along, he would have a different idea on how the church should look. Some repairs would be made, some remodelling done, then his term would end without the Church being finished, and here comes another friar with another idea. Luckily most of the churches were completed, and most of them have been preserved by the local government without sacrificing their original appearances.
A lot of the bell towers are really out of shape, with most of the stairs rickety and rather difficult to climb; and yet everybody climbs them anyway. I suppose you ascend for the sake of imagining how it all used to be; the role it played as part of your history. I wonder if the boys who came up to ring the bells every morning ever looked out into the distance for a moment and contemplate. And if they did, what did they think about? The people who you only read about in the books used to come here and walk these stairs, these altars. And yet here you are in the same place.
In Vigan, Ilocos Sur, my favourite place we visited is the Heritage Village. It is basically a small, very well-preserved Spanish colonial town. Most of the people who live around the Village build their houses in the traditional, European style, in keeping with the whole atmosphere and character of the area.
I can almost see ladies in frilly dresses carrying umbrellas, their other hand resting on the arms of gentlemen in equally frilly suits; riding carriages, walking about, doing errands. They would’ve gone into a cafe or a bakeshop and bought themselves a few pieces of Spanish bread to snack on (as I did). Exploring the streets can feel like taking a walk back in time, which for someone like me who adores history and things of old, can be quite enthralling.
I couldn’t resist adding more vintage touches to the already vintage-looking stone buildings in my photos. 😀
Meanwhile, the impression left to me by the city of Laoag in Ilocos Norte is basically that it is Marcos land, and by that I mean while the rest of the Philippines has some form of aversion to the Marcos regime, the people here celebrate it. Even now that their presence in the rest of the country has somehow ebbed, their influence is very strong in these parts.
Being in this area, our travel agency of course took us to typical tourist spot Marcos Museum & Masoleum, where some old paraphernalia and newspaper clippings from the youth of former President Marcos was displayed, I believe, to show a different side of him than what most people know. In the Masoleum, his body lays in a cryogenic glass case, covered by a layer of wax to preserve his looks. We also to visit the Malacanang of the North, which was the home of the Marcoses back in the day.
The house was very spacious and the view overlooking Paoay Lake from the balcony lovely, which is probably why they chose this spot to build their house in anyway. It does make me wonder what kind of life the Marcos children had though, living in such a place during such a time; greatly feared by the masses but secretly under scrutiny.
Another popular thing to visit in Ilocos Norte are the massive Windmills located in Bangui Bay. The Bangui Windmills form part of the first local “Wind Farm”, providing at least 40% of the power in Ilocos Norte. The windmills are really quite a marvel to behold, standing on attention at the shores facing the South China Sea. The strong winds send the waves crashing to the shore and make the sand fly everywhere.
Aside from the churches, we managed to stop over a couple of other places, one of which was the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse in Burgos, Ilocos Norte. I like lighthouses because they are eerie but beautiful at the same time. I love that this was not like one of those modern white lighthouses, but was built using reddish bricks and stones. Erected during the Spanish colonial era hundreds of years ago, this lighthouse is still being used today to guide traveling ships. I’m just not sure how well it works as it is not particularly well-maintained, which is such a waste.
We also stopped by the beach in the Pagudpud area, which had lovely clear waters and rough white sand. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Pagudpud’s beaches but I’m guessing this isn’t the best resort to appreciate it from? It was too hot to swim, but I decided to get a little volleyball in, finally, after two years! It was actually also too hot to play but I miss volleyball so much I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. (I had to force a couple of people to play with me.) Fun times!
The Ilocanos pride themselves of their many local dishes, but our tour guide spent a great deal of his time building up the empanadas. Well it worked because I was very excited. The Ilocanos have an interesting way of making their empanadas too, using the side of a plate to cut off the excess dough upon shaping. I did cringed a little (as I always do) as the empanadas were thrown into the oil to get deep-fried because I’m not a fan of these kinds of things. Unfortunately my own prejudices against fried food prevented me from fully enjoying this.
And actually, it’s unfortunate that I couldn’t document any other Ilocano dishes during this trip because the travel agent who we hired to tour us around was not very good.
Anyway when I got home, I was feeling kind of regretful about not trying a bit harder to appreciate Ilocano empanadas. Being in Manila, I’m not sure where to get a decent and legitimate authentic Ilocos-style empanada to give it another go.
In the meantime, I just thought I would make a baked version to tide me over for a while. Now before anything else, I want to say I AM NOT claiming to be replicating Ilocano empanadas at all. These are a super duper far-cry from Ilocano empanadas, but I guess in a pinch of empanada-craving that is not necessarily the Ilocano kind, these will do. You are free to change up the filling depending on what you have available, or even stuff it with similar fillings as the Ilocano empanada. That’s the beauty of empanadas isn’t it? The liberties to experiment with fillings.
The dough for this recipe was absolutely marvelous to work with. They were so easy to roll, easy to shape, and not at all painfully fragile. They produced a flaky, thin, but firm shell for the filling; the type that is a fantastic experience to indulge in, because they are not crumbly and they do not fall all over you when you bite into them.
Again, the filling is all up to your preference or mood. I would’ve preferred to use Spanish chorizo but the Chinese version was what I found more accessible. It is a lot saltier than Spanish Chorizo, but it was nothing that a little Sriracha could not balance off. But hey your filling doesn’t have to involve any sort of sausage at all. With the dough as the prefect canvass, you can make do with any filling under the sun– pulled barbecue pork, curry chicken, or even mixed vegetables with tofu. Whatever floats your boat really!
Makes 10 to 14 empanadas
For the Dough
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces unsalted butter
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- a pinch of paprika
For the filling
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 pound about 220 grams Chorizo, casings removed and sliced*
- 1 small potato, peeled and diced
- 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
- 5 large eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese*
- salt and pepper, to taste
Make the dough
- 1. Heat water and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter has melted.
- 2. Mix flour, salt, and paprika in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Pour a little of the warm butter mixture in and stir with fingertips or a fork to make a wet paste.
- 3. Pour in remaining liquid and work the dough with your hands or a wooden spoon until you get a wet, oily dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- 4. About 15 to 20 before baking, preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
For the filling
- 5. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook, stirring to break up any large pieces, until done, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon into a large bowl.
- 6. Increase heat to medium and add potato, onion, and pepper to pan. Cook, stirring often, until potatoes are soft and onions are translucent, about 15 minutes. Remove vegetable mixture to bowl with the cooked chorizo.
- 7. Meanwhile, heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Scramble eggs as desired. Transfer scrambled eggs to chorizo and vegetable mixture. Add cheese. Gently fold mixture to combine. Season to taste.
- 8. Tear off pieces of chilled dough and roll into golf-ball sized balls. Using a rolling pin, roll out balls on a lightly floured work surface into about 5-inch diameter circles.
- 9. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of filling into the bottom half of each dough circle. Fold dough over to create a half-moon shape and press edges firmly to seal. Crimp edges with the back of a fork.***
- 10. Place empanadas on prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Enjoy with some hot sauce, if desired.
**I used all cheddar, which probably added more saltiness to the already salty Chinese Chorizo. You can use all-cheddar cheese if you're using another, less-salty type of sausage to fill the empanadas.
***I like to pinch the edges of the dough with my fingers, then I roll the excess dough in towards the body, after which I crimp the edges using a fork just for fun. Adapted from Handle The Heat blog