Cucina Ilocana: Bringing North cuisine to the South

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Sunday, May 11, 2014


FAR North of Davao lies the Ilocos Region, home to a rich culture most evident in places like Vigan, which has become a popular tourist destination.

Though experiencing their culture requires Davaoeños to take a long trip, experiencing their food is only a short drive away, as Cucina Ilocana offers Ilocos-style cooking to the people on the Southern end of the country.

Dinah Tabbada, owner of Cucina Ilocana, shared how simple gatherings led to the inspiration to open a restaurant serving Ilocano cooking.

“Mga anak ko kasi they’re fond of the Ilocano traditional food so every time we have celebrations or occasions we like to feel that we are in the North, and then friends would come, so paraming parami yung mga kaibigan na naka gusto ng taste of the food, so they said, why don’t you just open a store so Ilocanos here can have a place to eat and recall how it is in the North. We thought of bringing the traditional food here,” Tabbada said.

Among their offerings are pinakbet, which Tabbada said is prepared the same way as they do in Ilocos, which is where pinakbet originated.

Instead of using bagoong alamang for their pinakbet, she shared that they use anchovy sauce and add tomatoes for a more distinct flavor.

Pancit Miki, which Tabbada said is a traditional Ilocano food from the pre-war era, is also on their menu. Aside from those, they have poque-poque, which is grilled eggplant sautéed with spices and with Ilocano vinegar. “We also have this empanada, the empanada is very Ilocano.

There’s a difference between the Northern Ilocos and Southern Ilocos empanada, but the basic ingredients are the same,” she added.

No Ilocano menu is complete without bagnet, however, and Cucina Ilocana definitely has their own bagnet as well, which customers can see in a display case in the restaurant. She was also kind enough to explain what exactly makes bagnet different from other fried pork cuts, saying, “the cooling time for bagnet is much, much longer than that for lechon kawali.

It’s like two and a half to three hours for bagnet. The crispiness of bagnet is much more towards chicharon, while lechon kawali is more like the crispiness of lechon.” “In Ilocos practically all parts (are used for bagnet), but here we only use liempo so there is less oil, we see to it that the liempo is not so thick,” she added.

Popularly paired with their dishes is their maregmeg rice, which is fried rice with bits of bagnet in it. Tabbada also explained the reason behind the name, as she said, “maregmeg rice is rice fried in inato oil, plenty of garlic and some bits of bagnet. We call it maregmeg because when you slice the bagnet for small orders, there are bits that fall onto the chopping board, so we can serve them with the rice, and these bits that fall, we call them maregmeg in Ilocano.”

Although not the only place in town that serves Ilocano food, particularly bagnet, Tabbada shared that while other chefs put their own twists on the dishes, they tend to stick with how they are traditionally prepared. “We are really from the North and we go home often, so we really follow how they are really cooked,” she said.

With Ilocano food not exactly popular in this part of the country, Cucina Ilocana will be turning two years old this August, showing that the restaurant sees a regular flow of customers coming back to have their food.

As for the future of the restaurant, Tabbada shared that there have been offers to operate in a small stall in the mall, but shared that they are thinking about it since preparation in the mall is different from when you have your own place. For now, Tabbada said that they are focused on improving their products and expanding their offers.

CucinaIlocana is located at Unit A-3, Mabini Commercial Complex, Mapa corner Mabini Streets. They are open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 12, 2014.

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