A couple of days ago, I saw some photos of my relatives in Ilocos Norte, Philippines. One food in their photo caught my attention and intensified my longing for Ilocano food and cuisine.
Yes, it’s that Ilocano empanada, famous for its orange color and how it’s made on the spot as a to-go food for Ilocanos.
However, it amazes me that they bought the said Ilocano empanada in Manila and was equally amazed how this local favorite is making its way to the streets of Manila and I guess in many parts of Philippine archipelago.
I remember after school hours, I usually rush to the streets of Laoag and marvel at the sight of Empanada artists who prepare and create the delicacy in front of you. I could get lost in the process of how their hands flawlessly execute the initial circle of wrap and how they stuff the ingredients. It will make you amazed and your mouth water in anticipation!
It’s nice to see how a piece of Ilocano food is making its way to the palette of other Filipino people.
How was Empanada given an Ilocano Birth?
According to GoUNESCO, the Ilocano Empanada could be traced back to the Spanish colonial era: “The Ilocos empanada reflects history itself since the Spanish empanada inspires it. Empanada is a typical snack that originated from Spain and its former Latin American colonies. An empanada is made with wheat flour and stuffed with meat, carrots, corn, cheese, and peppers. There’s a lot of variation with the stuffings, depending on the ingredients available in the area.”
“As is often the case with any cultural exchange, the Spanish empanada has been modified to fit the local area’s culture and traditions. Since rice, longganisa (ground pork and molded into sausage links), papaya, mung beans, and eggs are abundant in Ilocos. These ingredients are used for the local empanada. And since baking is not a traditional way of cooking in Ilocos, the empanadas are deep-fried rather than baked.”
Why Does it Have an Orange Color?
First, let me tell you that the orange color is ALL-NATURAL!
The color of the empanada comes from ‘Atsuete,’ a natural food-color plant that bears fruits that are quite similar to another fruit called ‘rambutan.’ The seeds of the said fruits are extracted to produce dark orange to natural red pigment. Thus, it’s heavily incorporated in the making of the Ilocano empanada’s crust!
How to Cook Ilocano Empanada:
Cooking the Ilocano version of empanada has both its simplicity and complexities. The closest that I can read would be from Restaurant-4u’s recipe post:
3 cups of rice flour
atsuete (annatto) juice
1 cup of water
2 tbsp. oil
2 cups grated green papaya
2 cups bean sprouts
2 cups chopped Laoag longganisa (local sausage), sauteed
1 cup white onion chopped
One garlic clove finely chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Six fresh eggs
cooking oil for deep frying
Mix well all the ingredients of the filling. Set aside.
Mix all the ingredients of the shell, knead lightly until desired consistency is achieved. Make thin patties from the dough and fill with the filling, with the egg placed in the middle. Fold the patties & seal the edges. Fry until done. Serve with spiced vinegar.
The Northern Empanada Capital
When about the orange empanada, you will mostly find yourself in the Northern part of Ilocos, particularly in Batac City. While Vigan Empanada has gained recognition, Batac’s version of empanada has also attracted foodies and curious palette both in the Philippines and abroad.
The local government of Batac has also recognized the attraction their empanada gets. So a place called ‘Riverside Empanadaan’ where all the juicy empanada is being served is a complete haven.