Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the province of Ilocos Sur for the first time. It was a actually a religious pilgrimage, but I also took it as an opportunity to travel and experience the local color, and of course, the food.
In one of our stopovers, one of the pilgrims whose roots originate in Magsingal, Ilocos Sur, served us the morning snacks. It wasn’t exactly a morning snack; it was served at around 1:00pm due to delays in our itinerary. Me and my family were actually hesitant to eat because we know that buffet lunch is coming. Must save space on our tummies, ya know. However, we saw the others enthusiastically sipping on hot soup and since we have nothing to do but wait, we decided to queue up.
First, we were handed this variation of the sumang antala (a local rice cake), which I was hesitant to try as I’m not too fond of this kind of suman if it doesn’t come with ripe mangoes or sweetened beans.
But the others were raving about how different it was from the suman we know, so I took a bite. Unlike the usual sumang antala which has a bland flavor, this one is quite tasty. It’s a nice mixture of salty-sweet like inangit (sticky rice), but a bit sweeter and a lot stickier. It was nice.
And then, when we reached the top of the queue, we were served this noodle soup:
It’s kinda like a cross between mami and sotanghon soup, but with Ilocano miki (egg noodles) instead of sotanghon (glass noodles). The soup was light and tasty, which is just right especially if you’re so hungry and your stomach craves for something to warm it up. Then the locals said, “mas masarap po yan kung may sili, try n’yo po!” (it will be much tastier if you add ‘sili’ on it, try it!). The ‘sili’ refers to this:
It’s Ilocano cane vinegar mixed with the local variety of chili peppers. I sprinkled some on my soup, took a sip, and…
…WHOA. What sorcery is this? Is this what soup heaven feels like? The soup by itself is quite tasty, but adding the vinegar-chili concoction gives it a whole new level in tastiness. It gave the dish a whole new character. It was soooo good that despite the anticipated buffet lunch – which also did not disappoint – I asked for another bowl of just the soup with chili vinegar.
Later on, I learned that this dish is considered as street food and can be sampled at food stalls in Vigan along with empanada and okoy. It’s simple food that warms the soul.
This trip was supposed to be a religious experience, spiritually. I never expected it to be a religious gastronomical experience, as well.