The best snack food from every province in Luzon
For Filipinos, food goes beyond the nourishment of the body and filling up a hungry stomach. Sure, it’s a culture in itself, but it also binds people together. We love holding fiestas, we can’t go a day without having merienda, and it’s customary for us to invite others to sit down and share our food.
Foreign media, most especially in the US—a melting pot of cultures—keep on saying that the time of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisine is up, and should make way for Filipino cuisine, which, inch by inch, is making a mark in the culinary world.
Chef and TV personality Andrew Zimmerman predicted in 2012 that Filipino food will be a hit in two years, and he might have just played Nostradamus there. Anthony Bourdain quipped that in his Hierarchy of Pork, lechon is on top of his list.
It’s good to know that chefs and Filipinos overseas are shattering the Filipino food = balut equation, but for everyone’s information, snacks in our country aren’t just limited to lumpia and varieties of pancit. Here are the best snacks from each province in Luzon.
There is more exotic food in our country other than balut. Pictured here is abuos, big, red ant eggs (or what we more commonly know as hantik), sauteed with garlic, onions, and lowland tomatoes. It has a rich, tangy taste, and is a rare delicacy.
Abuos hunters gather eggs by poking into tree holes, making them vulnerable to attacks from leaf-cutter ants, whose bites are far from the “parang kagat lang ng langgam,” which is what we usually heard from our parents whenever we had to have injections at the doctor’s office.
Aside from the spicy and creamy concoctions made of sili and gata in Southern Luzon, Albay also has the Marcasotes, a native steamed cake made with flour, sugar, and vanilla cooked in paper bags. Locals cook it in the old style, by steaming it in large, clay pots lined with cut banana bark, giving it a unique taste and aroma. It is usually served on special occasions, paired with a hot chocolate drink called sikwate.
Apayao and Kalinga
As an agricultural country, provinces have various versions of suman, including Inandila, commonly found up north in the Cordilleran provinces of Kalinga and Apayao. What makes the Inandila different from the common suman wrapped in yellow banana leaves is it uses ground malagkit rice.
The Inandila, according to some locals, is usually served before a bodong—a Cordilleran peace pact—starts.
Aurora also has their own version of suman, and theirs is of a purplish darker color. In Baler, Aling Rose’s suman seems to be the most popular one. Her house, where she sells her suman, is visited by almost everyone. Although the suman is good on its own, it is recommended to pair it with Aling Pacing’s peanut butter and coco jam for an extra yummy kick.
Aside from World War II refugees, some provinces in Luzon—Bataan included—welcomed with arms wide open quite a number of Vietnamese who fled the war in the 70′s. Which explains why in this Central Luzon province, one of the most popular snack foods here is hutieu, a type of Vietnamese noodle dish similar to its more recognizable sibling pho.
The refugees set up food businesses here, until their permanent resettlement to the US and Canada. Aling Loleng from Morong, who worked for a refugee camp in Vietnam, saw the opportunity to set up her own Vietnamese noodle house.
Ivatan people from Batanes are believed to have the longest life expectancy among the Filipinos, but that doesn’t mean they don’t indulge in cholesterol-rich food once in a while. People’s hearts would literally stop at lunies, Batanes’ own version of adobo. Ivatans season their liempo with salt and dry-cook it until its own oil comes out. Mmm. Memis.
Filipinos also have a sweet tooth. The anocha, a popular pasalubong from Batangas, is made up of whole peanuts and dark raw sugar, shaped in a coconut shell and sold in pairs. Eating too much of it will give our dentists a hard time.
One of our childhood snacks may have been ampao: brown, pinipig balls or squares, which, more often than not, contains more air than actual pinipig. In Benguet, they have their own version called tsu-om, or roast rice crunch. It is quite tedious to make one, but the highlanders assure you that every bite is worth it.
Another childhood favorite is the belekoy, which originated from this historical Central Luzon province. It is a dark, sticky pastry made from flour, sugar, and vanilla which resembles that of a nougat.
My Sis gave me this yesterday, but I won’t eat it. Bro, it’s yours. Pork is okay… but Carabao chicharon? Not! pic.twitter.com/ysxEIUmQo9
— MP (@Selknirps) July 11, 2014
Filipinos also like chicharon everything: from the most common pork rinds, to the healthier alternatives that is bangus and tuna skin chicharon. People from Cagayan have their ever-dependable carabaos as one of their main sources of livelihood. Aside from the famed Alcala carabao milk candy, they also take pride in their carabao chicharon.
Besides Bicol Express and laing, one popular dish in Southern Luzon is sinantol. In this dish, santol is usually combined with prawns or shrimp to give it a strong taste, mixed in gata.
A trip to Naga and Camarines Sur is not complete without bringing home candied pili nuts. Pili is actually a species of nuts endemic in countries like Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Northern Australia. In the country, it is more commonly found in Bicol.
Locals harvest them from pili trees and peel off the shell. They boil the pili nuts first for several minutes before cooking them in sugar.
Catanduanes also has their own version of suman: the latik, but what makes it different is that it has its own “sauce” called bañar made up of coconut milk, water, and sugar boiled for a long time. The latik itself is a salted steamed rice cake with juice extracted from malunggay leaves to enhance its flavor.
Digman is a small Bacoor barangay, whose halo-halo has gone big beyond the locals. Folks from Manila and nearby provinces troop to Digman to get a gulp of the famed dessert which contains the typical ingredients: beans, kaong, nata de coco, leche flan, gulaman, macapuno, sago, red mongo, and ube.
Ifugao’s binakle is made from ground diket, or glutinous rice, which are usually made in time for the Bakle Festival in August, where Ifugao people offer their binakle to the gods to thank them for their latest harvest. It is served with either red or white rice wine.
It is also said that the glutinous rice which is used to make binakle is only endemic to the Banaue Rice Terraces.
It is more commercially known as Boy Bawang, but compared to the kornik snack, Ilocos chichacorn is slightly puffed like popcorn, which makes it easier to chew. Chichacorn now has other flavors besides garlic. These are cheese and sugary/sweet.
Although empanada is sold in some Metro Manila malls now, nothing beats the original. Empanada is a stuffed pastry, usually filled with meat and vegetables. It is one of Spain’s many contributions to our local cuisine, but unlike some empanadas which resemble puff pastries, Ilocos empanada is deep-fried and is orange in color. It is filled with green papaya, vegetables, egg, and Ilocos longganisa.
First time ko makatikim ng pancit na ganito. Pancit Batil Patong FTW! #officialjpliberato pic.twitter.com/bls3YhVq0D — JP Liberato (@offcljpliberato) July 25, 2014
Although Cagayan in origin, pansit batil patung is popular in its neighboring province Isabela. It is made from pansit miki Tuguegarao, minced carabao meat, and vegetables, topped with a fried egg. A carinderia located along Kamuning serves authentic pancit batil patung, should you crave one in the middle of the day.
La Union and Nueva Vizcaya
Northern Luzon provinces, such as La Union and Nueva Vizcaya also take pride in their tupig, a different version of suman, but grilled on charcoal.
When a person is called an espasol, they immediately get their mirror to checks if powder is evenly applied on their face. Similarl to the food counterpart where the metaphor originated, espasol is made from rice flour cooked in coconut milk and strips, and dusted with toasted rice flour.
Uraro (a localized form of arrowroot) cookies are made from, what else, but from arrowroot flour, which gives these cookies a distinct powdery, delicate texture when eaten like puto seko. These are usually shaped like flowers and wrapped in papel de hapon.
According to Merien Esper of Masbate Governor’s Office, the main ingredient in linupak from their province depends on seasonality, but it is either made from bananas or cassava. Linupak literally means to crush, and this is done by pounding pieces of banana or cassava with mortar and pestle, and adding condensed milk, grated coconut sugar, and margarine.
Mountain Province actually produces oranges, alongside the imported ones from China and the US. A café in Sagada has an orange orchard in its premises, where they allow people to pick their oranges and eat them on the spot. Sagada oranges, compared to the imported ones, have much tighter skin, a thinner rind, is less bright in color, and are much bigger.
One thing similar to all Luzon provinces is its dependence on the ever-reliable carabao. Unknown to many, Nueva Ecija is the dairy capital of the country, producing locally made dairy products such as kesong puti, fresh milk, and yogurt. The Science City of Muñoz, where the Philippine Carabao Center (yes, there is such a government office) is located, oversees the dairy sector.
Oriental and Occidental Mindoro
Oriental and Occidental Mindoro are among the top producers of bananas in the Philippines, and they have made an industry out of making banana chips. John-Nette’s banana chips, the most popular brand among tourists, makes use of saging na saba and refined sugar, cooked in coconut oil.
The cashew nuts we usually buy whenever we go to Antipolo actually come from Palawan, the country’s cashew nut capital. The province accounts for 90 percent of the total cashew nut production every year, sending some to Antipolo for processing. These nuts can be bought salted, fried, roast, brittle, caramelized, and sometimes sinfully covered in chocolate.
Maja Blanca is often made during fiestas, birthdays or other special occasions. Surprise your loved ones on your … pic.twitter.com/wIR5e5j2oC — Filipino Recipes (@FilipinoRecipes) May 10, 2014
Maja blanca, from the name itself, is of Spanish origin, and is mainly made from coconut milk. It is usually served during Christmas and other celebrations. It is gelatine-like in consistency and has a delicate flavor. We commonly see corn kernels in our maja blanca, but there are also other variants, such as the maja de ube.
Also known as “white gold” for being an economic driver in the province, Puto Calasiao is a type of rice cake made out of semi-glutinous rice shaped in small, bite-sized portions. Unlike other variants of puto, Puto Calasiao‘s long rice grains are first soaked in water for three days or more to ferment them.
Pichi-pichi was said to have originated in Quezon, but it is also commonly prepared in other provinces in Southern Luzon. Pichi-pichi can sometimes be as colorful as the one pictured here, or can sometimes just be bright yellow. It is made by mixing grated cassava, water, and sugar all together and steaming it, and then topped with grated cheese or niyog before serving.
Quirino’s popular snack is tinudok, which is similar to carioca. These are made with flour and macapuno rolled into tiny balls and fried until they turn brown. They are drizzled with caramel afterwards.
The Cainta bibingka looks more like a biko than a bibingka, but it is also made from rice flour and coconut, minus the itlog na maalat topping. The municipality currently holds the title for making the biggest rice cake ever, and was called the country’s bibingka capital because of it.
Boknoy is Romblon’s own take on siopao. Unlike with regular asado and bola-bola siopao, you no longer have to do the grueling task of putting sauce on boknoy. The sauce is already mixed with the meat inside the buns.
Nope, biting into this dish won’t knock your teeth out, but it can make your taste buds happy. Believed to be named after its place of origin Bato, Camarines Sur, pancit bato is a noodle dish that resembles pancit canton topped with chopped cabbage, carrots, bits of chicken, and tiny shrimp. The difference is that Pancit Bato noodles have a smokier flavor and a tougher texture.
The famous goat-milk pastillas from Tarlac, particularly those from JSJ Farm in Gerona, are sweet and creamy without being overwhelming.
The Guinness Book of World records once listed Zambales’ carabao mangoes as the sweetest fruit in the world. Zambales celebrates a yearly week-long Mango Festival in honor of the golden fruit.