What Makes Ilocano Food Ilocano
Ilocanos are notoriously known for being frugal. Born of an area bereft of resources, who can blame them? As far back as Pre-hispanic times, they scrimped to survive the harsh living conditions of the northern Philippines. If it were hard times for the entire archipelago, it was much harder for them (and yes same is true for some of our brothers in Visayas and Mindanao). They migrated vigorously. Families moving in droves to south, and males boarding ships to Hawaii, Alaska and California to fill foreign labor with their entire clan following suit. Motivation to go find better life is the major reason why they are one of the most dispersed ethnic communities in the Philippines.
These hardships and lack of resources reflect on the Ilocano table. Food preparation was always simple, and ingredients never expensive if not FREE for most ingredients were locally available. And fortunately for them, the selections were very healthy and green. They cooked the slimy saluyot, picked flowers and made them edible, and basically took every free growing weed into the pot then flavored them with the smelly buggoong and armang. As compared to the Ilocano taste, Filipinos in general are a culture of meat eaters. The healthy roughage, overly simple and flesh-scant Ilocano viands don’t appeal to the common Pinoy tongue. Onlypinakbet and bagnet have made it to mainstream Filipino cuisine. In fact, have you ever seen a popular faithfully Ilocano restaurant chain that serves dinengdeng? Nope. Some Tagalogs aren’t even aware that such mix of bitter vegetables and leftover fish tail could be so deliciously addicting.
I’m an immigrant Ilocano living in the States. In US, ingredients are easily available, food is relatively affordable, but it’s hard to shake off traits that have been socially and culturally ingrained in my head. Plus, I admit I miss the bitter veggie stew my grandmother used to cook. In one of my sentimental weeks, I actually spent more cooking Ilocano comfort foods whose ingredients have otherwise been free if cooked in my hometown in Tarlac, but since New York has a climate that wouldn’t perennially grow ingredients like saluyot, I splurged on ingredients that turned out to be more expensive than the regular American steak.
I don’t cook often, but whenever I do my method of cooking is green in the recycled sense. I cook whatever is in the fridge. I cook whatever is left from last night’s dinner. I cook the takeout leftovers. No fancy ingredients. No elaborate trappings. No running to the store to buy missing ingredients. I make my fridge as sustainable as possible. Simple and economical are my two governing principles. On this page, do not expect popular Filipino foods. I only do creations born out of hunger. Food that is cooked because I was hungry and at the same time have this creative tendency to see how a certain leftover will taste if mixed with something I don’t want to throw out from the fridge.
I have been programmed to be frugal, so frugal I will be. I am your friendly, feisty, and most frugal Ilocano SCAVENGER COOK.